Simpson Thacher Secures T-Visa Immigration Status for Labor Trafficking Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (“Simpson Thacher”) for their patient and compassionate pro bono representation of “Sylvia” in obtaining T Nonimmigrant status. The team consisted of Partner, Leanne Welds; Of Counsel, Mark J. Stein; and former Associate, Suzy R. Yaster.

At the age of 13, Sylvia was forced into an arranged marriage—an event that commenced years of forced labor and abuse in and between Sylvia’s home country and the United States. Following the marriage, Sylvia was immediately taken out of school and moved from her childhood home into the home of her new in-laws, where she was forced to work in domestic servitude for the remainder of her teenage years. In her early twenties, Sylvia was sent to care for her then-ill husband and trafficker in the United States, a country where she knew no one. Her time spent in the United States provided no reprieve for Sylvia. She was kept isolated, preventing her from building any community; subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse; and forced to work at the bequest and under the complete control of her trafficker-husband. Sylvia ultimately bore two children by her abuser.

Notwithstanding these painful circumstances, Sylvia’s children are her pride and joy, and were a primary motivation for her bravely seeking assistance to find a safe home for her and her children away from her abusive husband. In 2018, Sylvia was fortuitously connected with Simpson Thacher subsequent to a referral to Sanctuary’s Human Trafficking Intervention Court Clinic in Queens by a partnering organization. Sylvia was immediately identified as a potential trafficking victim. During her intake, Sylvia shared parts of her deeply complex story for the first time with now Partner, Leanne Welds. When Sanctuary for Families sought to refer the matter to the firm, Simpson Thacher generously agreed to assist Sylvia with her application for T Nonimmigrant Status on a pro bono basis.

From the outset, the Simpson Thacher team built rapport with Sylvia, earning her trust and beginning to unravel Sylvia’s story. Over the next four years, Sylvia courageously fled her trafficker with her children, shared her story with legal authorities, and applied for immigration status based on the human trafficking crimes that were committed against her. The Simpson Thacher team spent many hours with Sylvia, preparing the supporting affidavit needed to apply for T Nonimmigrant Status and preparing her to report the crimes against her and respond to questions from the US Attorney’s Office (“USAO”). From conducting mock interviews, to supporting Sylvia at the interview with the USAO, to the careful preparation and submission of Sylvia’s application, Welds described the entire process as a labor of love by the entire Simpson Thacher team. Ultimately, Simpson Thacher’s efforts were successful as Sylvia’s T Nonimmigrant Status application was approved earlier this year.

Welds, Stein and Yaster expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to represent and support Sylvia over the past few years. Welds noted,

“This experience truly highlights that our impact in the world should not always be measured by its breadth but also its depth. Obtaining T Nonimmigrant Status was a life-changing and live-saving experience for Sylvia and her children, an outcome that would likely not have been achieved without significant time commitment and devotion to building the strongest case for Sylvia’s circumstance.”

Jessica-Wind Abolafia, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary for Families, concluded,

“I applaud the Simpson Thacher team for their deeply compassionate, skilled, and patient advocacy. Their steadfast and dedicated representation allowed them to support Sylvia in disclosing her story and even to find healing during the process.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s outstanding pro bono work.



Nicole Vescova is an associate in the Miami office of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, and a member of its Labor & Employment Practice, where she regularly defends employers of all sizes and sectors against all types of employment claims. Nicole is also a member of Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Counsel.