Helping the Next Generation
Mahsa Khanbabai knows the challenges immigrants face — she’s faced them herself
Published in 2021 Massachusetts Super Lawyers magazine
on October 12, 2021
Updated on October 13, 2021
Mahsa Khanbabai was born in Iran, but her earliest memories are of Massachusetts. After her father accepted an offer to do his medical residency in the U.S., her family moved to the state while she was just a baby in 1972. It was planned to be a temporary stay. Then came the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War.
“It was a very dangerous time, so [we] could not go back,” Khanbabai says. “Being uprooted like that was difficult for them.”
It wasn’t easy for her, either. “As a young person,” she says, “being an immigrant, being Middle Eastern, being Muslim with a different name and looking different had a lot of challenges.”
But she remembers the positives, too. For a time, Khanbabai’s father Rajab was the only obstetrician-gynecologist at the community hospital in the town of Ware in the western part of the state, meaning he delivered thousands of babies over the course of his career. “I saw what a difference he made in the community and how much people appreciated him,” she says.
As she grew up, she saw more health care providers from around the world settle in Ware to work at the hospital. “That really held a lot of inspiration for me, to see people from all around the world come together, who were providing desperately needed medical care to communities that had a hard time recruiting American physicians,” Khanbabai says.
Meanwhile, her family was still trying to gain citizenship. Their case took longer than usual partly because the government misplaced their files, Khanbabai says. After that was cleared up and they got their green cards, they had to wait another five years to apply for U.S. citizenship. The process was finally completed in 1998, when Khanbabai was 27 years old.
“Going through the immigration process myself and seeing how scary it was, especially at the time when we didn’t have an attorney, was really intimidating,” Khanbabai says. “I think that also inspired me to do the work that I’m doing now.”
These days, her father is retired and living in Ware, while at Khanbabai Immigration Law in Easton, Khanbabai helps clients from around the world who are in a similar position as she once was.
In 2017, soon after President Trump issued Presidential Proclamation 9645—or the Muslim travel ban—Khanbabai worked with a client who need to come to the U.S. for a bone marrow transplant with his brother. He was denied a visa. “All because he was a citizen of Iran,” she says. “With a lot of pressure and the public media campaign, we were able to get him a visa.”
In Spring 2019, Khanbabai was working on a case involving a young girl whose family fled Syria because of ISIS. After suffering burns to over 50% of her body in a refugee camp in Turkey, the girl was sponsored to come to the United States for burn treatment, but due to various travel bans, her visa had been denied. Khanbabai continues to work on the girl’s behalf.
“Those are the kinds of cases that I really love working on,” she says.
Khanbabai says she sees positive changes in the U.S. immigration system because of change in presidential administrations, but that it will take years and significant adaptions to meet modern societal needs.
“All of the courageous steps that [immigrants] have already undertaken by coming here is really just … words can’t describe how powerful that is to me, and inspiring and fulfilling,” Khanbabai says. “While I can’t maybe change the world, at least I can change the lives of some people around me, and they will then impact other people in their lives.”