Epstein Becker Team Assists Survivor in Eviction Proceeding

At this year’s Above & Beyond, Sanctuary will honor an Epstein Becker team for their representation of Sanctuary client “Jane” in a challenging landlord-tenant dispute and application for relief under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families will be honoring Epstein Becker attorneys Tamara Bock, Jennifer O’Connor, and Anastasia Regne for their dedicated, creative and successful representation of Sanctuary client “Jane” in a challenging landlord-tenant dispute and application for relief under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

In 2018, Sanctuary for Families and Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. teamed up to work on an eviction proceeding that had been ongoing for a year. Although the client, Jane, had been diligent in making payments to her landlord since the beginning of the case up until the pandemic hit, there were accrued arrears based on the fact that the monthly rent had increased to an untenable level – nearly double what it should have been as a rent stabilized unit. And while she was happy to stay in the apartment with her college-student daughter after divorcing her abusive husband, the rent had become too high for Jane to manage on her own. Although Jane had good legal arguments to support her side of the case, proving them in court would be an uphill battle.

In came Epstein Becker. Jennifer and Anastasia, with tremendous support from Tamara and other attorneys and staff at the firm, got to work. Collaborating with former Sanctuary attorneys Dana Kaufman and Sandra Takami, the team concluded that the way to push the case forward would be to retain an expert who could speak to the adequacy of the landlord’s arguments for why the building was allegedly no longer subject to rent regulation. The Epstein Becker team moved for expert discovery and ultimately won the landlord’s consent, premised on the landlord’s intention to submit his own expert report.

Epstein Becker then retained an expert at their own expense – a cost that would be prohibitive for most individual tenants – and worked with the expert to conduct a thorough inspection of Jane’s unit and key areas in the apartment building. The expert completed his review and subsequently prepared a report that debunked the landlord’s theory underlying its case and supposed justification for charging a market rent. Although the landlord claimed they wanted to submit their own expert report, they did not produce one timely. After several extensions to the deadline passed, the landlord ultimately filed an order to show cause in which they sought permission to submit a report after the deadline, but to no avail. The Epstein Becker team skillfully opposed the order to show cause, and the court denied the landlord’s request.

That was the turning point. The landlord, apparently realizing what a strong case Jane had, began to engage in settlement discussions. Unfortunately, by that point, the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak, and it had become even harder for Jane to make rent and utility payments. Her arrears, as claimed by the landlord, had reached nearly $70,000.

Undaunted by the challenge, Anastasia did the painstaking work of filing an application on Jane’s behalf for relief under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (“ERAP”), an economic relief program that permitted eligible households in New York State to request assistance for rental and utility arrears accumulated during the COVID-19 crisis. The application process was not without its challenges, however (including all-too-familiar crashes on the application website, which required Anastasia to start from scratch on more than one occasion), but ultimately it worked. Jane was granted relief in the form of $22,500, which was paid directly to her landlord.

Between the strength of Jane’s legal case, particularly with the benefit of the impactful expert report, and the show of good faith evident in the team’s efforts to get ERAP relief while negotiations were ongoing, Jane and the landlord were able to come to a favorable resolution. And best of all for Jane, her daughter was able to stay in the apartment until she earned her design degree last May, which she had been working towards throughout the stressful ordeal.

Reflecting on the case, Anastasia noted how meaningful the matter was for Jane and how satisfying it was to work on the case. “Public interest work can be very challenging,” she said, “but this felt like a very good result.”

Thanks to the tireless advocacy and empathy offered by Jennifer and Anastasia, Jane and her daughter received the support they needed in their legal battle.

“The wholistic aspect of Sanctuary’s work covers every aspect of the clients’ needs, to ensure that they continue to succeed in their lives even after the legal case has been resolved.”

Anastasia Regne
Associate, Epstein Becker

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on November 2, 2022, as we honor the Epstein Becker team’s outstanding pro bono work.


If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

Colleen O’Brien is a member of the Sanctuary for Families Pro Bono Council. She is a Managing Director and Senior Counsel at Goldman Sachs.

Milbank Attorneys Help Trafficking Survivor Reunite with Her Daughter

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring two attorneys from Milbank LLP for their persistent advocacy on behalf of their client “Chelsea” in her efforts to be reunited with her 12-year old daughter.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring two attorneys from Milbank LLP, Cathy Zhu and George Zhang, for their persistent and creative advocacy on behalf of their client “Chelsea” in her efforts to be reunited with her 12-year old daughter, “Sarah,” who remained in China without proper guardianship during the pandemic.

When Cathy and George started working with Chelsea, she was not a new client for Milbank. Prior Milbank teams had helped Chelsea, a trafficking survivor, become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Although she was well on her path to a new life in the United States, one important piece of the puzzle was missing: her youngest daughter, Sarah, who Chelsea had not seen in person since leaving China several years before. With her immigration status settled, in August 2019, Chelsea began working with Cathy Zhu to bring then 10-year-old Sarah to the U.S.

Although Sarah was eligible for an immigrant visa as Chelsea’s minor daughter, there remained a number of hurdles to overcome, including an interview with the U.S. State Department at a local consulate. Securing an interview at a U.S. consulate in China from abroad is challenging under any circumstances, but when the pandemic began in early 2020, the process ground to a halt. On January 31, 2020, the Trump administration imposed restrictions on travel and immigration to the U.S. from China.

Throughout this time, Sarah had been living with her father and his girlfriend in China. Although Chelsea did not think Sarah’s father was providing Sarah with the level of care and nurturing she deserved, Chelsea felt that Sarah was at least safe, and knew her father would assist with the visa process. But even that small bit of consolation ended when, in January of this year, Chelsea learned that Sarah’s father had been arrested in China and sent to jail.

Panicked, Chelsea called Cathy at Milbank and explained the renewed urgency to get Sarah out of China. The girlfriend was not interested in caring for Sarah, and Sarah was essentially left to fend for herself in Shanghai. To ensure that Sarah had adequate nutrition, Chelsea sent Sarah meals through a delivery service—a necessary stopgap, but nothing close to a solution to the problem. Chelsea was determined to reunite with Sarah, and started planning a trip to China, despite the risks of getting stuck and jeopardizing her own U.S. residency.

Cathy sprang into action. She recruited fellow Milbank associate George Zhang, and the two pursued a relentless campaign to get through to a U.S. consulate in China. In February, they finally made contact with the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China, only to be told that the consulate could not help in light of President Trump’s 2020 proclamation. Cathy and George impressed upon the consulate staff the urgency of the situation—while attempting to avoid having Sarah sent into foster care, which would further complicate her immigration proceedings—and began developing legal arguments in support of Sarah’s application.

Kathy Lu, the Sanctuary for Families attorney who worked with Cathy and George, noted how remarkable their efforts were:

“Cathy and George were advocating for their client in a period of unprecedented challenges, and they faced those challenges with determination and a deep empathy for the emotional toll the situation was taking on their client.”  — Kathy Lu, Sanctuary Attorney

Little did they know that relief was close at hand. On February 24, 2021, the Biden administration lifted the restrictions imposed by the January 2020 executive order, which allowed Sarah’s application to proceed quickly, due to the work that had already been done. Working with the International Organization for Migration, Cathy and George got Chelsea on a flight to China, armed with the necessary paperwork, and worked to obtain an interview appointment at the U.S. consulate on the first possible day Sarah could get there, taking into account travel time—Chelsea had to fly to Shanghai to pick up Sarah and accompany her the long distance to the consulate in Guangzhou—and strict quarantine guidelines in China.

The plan worked. Chelsea was reunited with Sarah and accompanied her to the interview in Guangzhou. Two weeks after her interview, Sarah was granted a visa to come to the U.S., and mother and daughter boarded a flight back to the U.S. together. When they arrived, Cathy was at the airport waiting for them.

“It was very touching,” Cathy reflected. “Chelsea had spoken so much about her daughter and was clearly so happy to be with her. She could not get over how tall her daughter had grown in their time apart. She was beaming.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond virtual celebration on Oct. 26, 2021, as we honor Cathy and George’s outstanding pro bono work. Click here to RSVP for free.

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

Colleen is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council. She is a Vice President and Senior Counsel at Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC.

S&C Attorneys Help Trafficking Survivors Adjust Status, Obtain T-Visa

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP for their astute and flexible representation of “Soojin” and “Miyoung” in their applications for adjustment of status and a T-non-immigrant visa, respectively.

Colleen is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.  She is a Vice President and Senior Counsel at Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP for their astute and flexible representation of “Soojin” and “Miyoung” in their applications for adjustment of status and a T-non-immigrant visa, respectively. The team assisting Soojin consisted of partner Garrard Beeney, attorneys Connor “CJ” Haynes and Suniti Mehta, and legal assistant Emma Needham.  Garrard Beeney also assisted in Miyoung’s case, along with attorneys Olivia Chalos and David Seidler.

Soojin and Miyoung, two unrelated women who survived sex trafficking through massage parlors in both Korea and the United States, have each spent years working to overcome the trauma they endured.  Both women had paid the same immigration attorney in another state to assist them with their immigration petitions, but when they found their way to Sanctuary for Families, those applications had been in limbo for several years.  Soojin had filed a petition to adjust her status to receive lawful permanent residency after procuring a T-nonimmigrant visa (“T visa”) several years prior.  Miyoung had been waiting for her T visa for nearly five years, despite the successful prosecution of several of her traffickers.

When Sanctuary for Families attorneys Amy Hsieh and Kathy Lu began working with Soojin and Miyoung, they made several attempts to get the attention of USCIS and to find out the status of the cases, but to no avail. They realized that the best course of action to force a decision would be a rare and risky tactic: filing a mandamus action against the federal government to compel action in Soojin’s and Miyoung’s cases. And they knew that they would need a sophisticated team of pro bono attorneys to help.

In July of 2019, the Sullivan and Cromwell team took the cases, and Garrard, CJ, Suniti, Oliva, David, and Emma began preparing the mandamus actions.  After conducting extensive research into the novel issues presented, and considering the risks of increased negative scrutiny on the clients’ petitions as the result of a lawsuit against the government, the team drafted complaints.  In relatively short order the team filed the mandamus suit in Miyoung’s case in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.  Shortly thereafter, they were contacted by the Assistant U. S. Attorney who had been assigned the case.  The AUSA asked for more time to respond, with the implication that the suit may have prompted the government to take action on the underlying petition that would moot the mandamus case.  In January 2020, Miyoung received a Request for Evidence (“RFE”) relating to her T-visa petition.

In the meantime, Soojin had received an RFE, as well, likely on the back of a new, corrected adjustment-of-status petition Sanctuary had filed after withdrawing the prior version.  In light of the new territory both clients found themselves in, the Sullivan and Cromwell team did not miss a beat before shifting their attention to the RFEs.  While the mandamus actions were largely complicated questions of law that required extensive legal research, the RFE responses were incredibly fact-specific, especially when it came to detailing in a clear and accurate way the complicated criminal histories of both Soojin and Miyoung, which often present challenges for survivors of trafficking.

Further compounding the issue was the fact that the country was in the beginning stages of a pandemic.  In-person meetings between the clients and their lawyers would not be possible. “These circumstances make pro bono cases especially difficult when you can’t see your clients in person and develop that connection with them,” reflected Suniti.  

But as Kathy notes about the Sullivan and Cromwell team, “The speed with which Garrard, CJ, Suniti, Olivia, David, and Emma pivoted was remarkable.  They did not hesitate to roll up their sleeves to work on the RFE right after they had put countless hours into the mandamus complaints, all while managing the challenging new logistics of handling immigration cases during a pandemic.  We could not have done this work without them.”

For their part, the Sullivan and Cromwell team remained focused on serving Soojin and Miyoung with the best quality legal counsel, and they found their close partnership with Amy and Kathy to be incredibly effective.  Bolstered by their clients’ resilience and this new shot at overcoming the legal barriers that had been in Soojin and Miyoung’s way for too long, the Sullivan and Cromwell and Sanctuary for Families teams completed the RFEs together and submitted them timely.

Within a matter of weeks, Miyoung received approval of her T-visa petition, which granted her access to much-needed work-authorization, as well as a derivative visa for her husband, and Soojin received approval of her adjustment of status petition and is now a lawful permanent resident of the United States.  Given the extensive length of time both clients waited, and the significant legal hurdles they had to overcome, they were prepared for the worst.  Receiving approval of their respective petitions so soon after the Sullivan and Cromwell team started working on them was a tremendous relief.

Reflecting on the case, Olivia noted how clear it was to her from the start that Miyoung undoubtedly had overcome horrible experiences and had met the legal requirements for a T visa, especially since her traffickers had already been prosecuted.

“I was grateful to work on this case, but it is challenging to know that there are so many people without lawyers who find themselves in similar situations, facing these procedural hurdles.” — Olivia Chalos, Associate.

Suniti expressed her deep admiration for Soojin, who had lived in a state of uncertainty for so long and had survived years of trauma as the result of the trafficking, only to become stuck for years in an immigration system that she thought her prior attorney was working to help her navigate.  The Sullivan and Cromwell team, cognizant of Soojin’s experiences, worked hard to gain her trust and to be the advocates she deserved.  As Suniti put it, “having counsel can actually help you.”

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Garrard, Suniti, C.J. Emma, Olivia, and David. Click here to RSVP for free.

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

Latham & Watkins Attorneys’ Leadership Inspires Fellow Attorneys to Take on Hundreds of Pro Bono Immigration Cases

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins who have tirelessly advocated for victims of domestic violence and have encouraged others at their firm to do the same. Read to learn more.

Colleen O’Brien is an attorney and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins who have tirelessly advocated for victims of domestic violence and have encouraged and inspired other Latham & Watkins attorneys to take on hundreds of pro bono immigration cases.

Taking the Lead

Jessica Rostoker, Irina Sivachenko, and Amanda Parisi, litigation associates in Latham & Watkin’s New York office, have been the backbone of Latham’s robust pro bono immigration practice, and in particular its Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) pro bono program.

With their support, last year Latham attorneys contributed the highest number of pro bono hours of any law firm that partners with Sanctuary for Families.  Besides taking on dozens of their own direct representation cases, Jessica, Irina, and Amanda have placed over 100 Sanctuary cases with other Latham attorneys and have worked to ensure that the Latham pro bono attorneys taking those cases are well-trained and have the resources and supervision they need to best assist survivors of gender-based violence seek immigration relief.  As Laura Atkinson-Hope, the Managing Attorney for Global Pro Bono at Latham attested,

“[Latham] couldn’t consistently take on so many cases without their incredible leadership.”

Pro Bono Work is Personal

For Irina, working on pro bono matters with immigrant women is a meaningful way to pay forward the benefits of her own experience.  An immigrant herself, Irina is familiar with what it is like to make the journey to the United States, but she acknowledges the difference for those who arrive in the U.S. to attend college, like she did, and those who are fleeing persecution or violence in their home country.

Similarly, Irina has noted that as a Latham associate, she benefits from the firm’s focus on providing professional development and support for women, and she finds it rewarding to find ways to help other women who otherwise don’t have that support in their lives.

Jessica, who has studied human development as an undergraduate, finds that working with victims of domestic violence allows her to combine her legal training with her academic background and desire to connect with her clients on a human level.

As all three women noted, survivors of domestic violence, especially those in the throes of an abusive relationship, often feel isolated and may not have many people in their lives who they can talk to about what they’re experiencing.  Over time, these clients have come to view their pro bono lawyers as confidantes and trusted allies who are there not only to help them fight their legal battles but also to listen to them and support them as they work to reach the next stage in their lives.

Amanda has experienced first-hand the importance of the work Sanctuary for Families and pro bono lawyers are doing.  Several of Sanctuary’s clients are often in volatile situations, and seeking legal relief can truly be a matter of life and death.  Advocating for those clients, and providing them with comfort when they need it most, is what makes the work most meaningful for Amanda.

Changing Lives

Last year, a significant number of Latham & Watkins attorneys worked on VAWA cases with guidance and support from Jessica, Irina, and Amanda.  The three women accept cases from Sanctuary for Families and either take them on personally or find other attorneys to staff the cases, and then provide them with training materials, sample documents, and substantive guidance along the way.

According to Deborah Lee, a Senior Staff Attorney with Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project, Jessica, Irina, and Amanda have never said “no” when she has asked them to take on a new case, and she often calls them to help with the cases that have the most complex legal challenges or involve highly sensitive situations.

When asked how her pro bono immigration work has affected her overall professional development, Irina noted how empowering it is for young lawyers to have the chance to work directly with clients and manage their cases.

“We live in one of the most diverse cities in the world, but we still live in our own bubbles…this pro bono work makes me a better attorney and a better person.”

But as meaningful as Jessica, Irina, and Amanda have found the work to be, for their clients, it is life changing.  Clients frequently comment to the Latham team, and to Deborah, how grateful they are for the help they’ve received from their pro bono counsel.  They feel respected and valued and know that they are just as important to Latham’s lawyers as their paying clients.  And nothing can compare to clients’ reactions when, months or years later, they receive permanent residency.  The joy and relief they experience is incomparable and never fails to move their dedicated legal teams.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, New York as we honor this Latham & Watkins team’s outstanding pro bono work.  You can buy tickets here

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.