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

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor a Simpson Thacher team for their patient and compassionate pro bono representation.

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.

Expanded Tribal Court Jurisdiction Helps Address Violence Against Indigenous Women

Because tribal courts have been stripped of their sovereignty, violence against Indigenous women has long been a problem. But recent advances have restored partial criminal jurisdiction to tribes.

Molly Simons is an Institutional Giving Intern at Sanctuary for Families. A senior at Trinity College, she is writing a thesis about violence against Indigenous women. ________________________________________________________________________________

While only referencing the U.S., this blog post will use Indigenous to refer to American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities and members.

Through legislative and judicial decisions, the U.S. federal government has finally started to allow tribal courts to try non-Indigenous defendants when they commit certain crimes against Indigenous tribe members on tribal land. This fight for expanded jurisdiction has been going on since the inception of the U.S., largely through advocacy work against federal overreach into tribal sovereignty. The Violence Against Women Act’s (VAWA) reauthorizations in 2013 and 2022 have been the culmination of this advocacy, expanding tribal court jurisdiction in significant ways.

To understand these recent expansions, it helps to know a brief history of tribal court criminal jurisdiction

Government overreach into tribal court jurisdiction began in 1883, when Crow Dog, a member of the Brule Sioux Tribe, was tried for murdering fellow tribal member Spotted Tail on reservation land. The Sioux Tribal Court handled the case, Ex parte Crow Dog, internally, but the US Territory of Dakota however, declared the Sioux decision insufficient and demanded the hanging of Crow Dog. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the federal government did not have jurisdiction to try a crime committed by one Indigenous person against another Indigenous person if the crime occurred on reservation land or in Indigenous space.

Congress, which did not want to leave Indigenous power unchecked, reacted by passing the Major Crimes Act of 1885, which gave the federal courts exclusive jurisdiction over 15 major crimes—even if those crimes were committed on Indigenous lands by Indigenous defendants. The Major Crimes Act, still in effect today, not only stripped tribal courts of their sovereignty over those crimes, but also stripped them of decades of funding and money. Tribal courts were left without the resources to pursue domestic violence cases, leaving Indigenous space—particularly the space occupied by women—open for crime.

In 1978, tribal courts’ jurisdiction was narrowed even further. In Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, the Supreme Court ruled that tribal courts did not have the right to try non-Indigenous defendants—even for crimes committed on Indigenous lands against Indigenous people. The ruling reversed a 1976 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that upheld the power of the Suquamish Tribal Court to try two non-Indigenous defendants for reckless driving, resisting arrest, and assault. The tribe argued, and the lower court agreed, that since the tribe had never ceded the power to try non-Indigenous defendants and Congress had never “expressly terminated” said power, the tribal court should have full jurisdiction. The Supreme Court disagreed and claimed that “absent an express congressional delegation of power,” the Suquamish Tribal Court did not have the jurisdiction to try the non-Indigenous defendants.

With tribal courts unable to prosecute non-Indigenous offenders, reservations became open space for crime and violence, especially violence against Indigenous women and children.

But, recent VAWA Expansions have sought to restore some criminal jurisdiction to tribal courts

Because tribal courts have been stripped of their sovereignty, violence against Indigenous women has long been a problem. But recent advances have restored partial criminal jurisdiction to tribes.

The Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA 2013) and tribal court jurisdiction known as Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction (SDVCJ) have opened doorways for tribes, allowing tribes to expand their courts’ jurisdiction and convict more defendants. While this was available and welcomed by tribes of the Lower 48 states in the U.S., virtually no tribes in Alaska were able enact this jurisdiction because of differences in the designation of their land. Furthermore, the crimes were limited, restricting tribes ability to put away abusers and defendants who still commit violent crimes outside the approved jurisdiction.

Then, in 2022, Congress reauthorized VAWA again (VAWA 2022) and expanded jurisdiction in Special Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction (STCJ), that allowed Alaska tribes to participate in these cases. The pilot program in 2013 in the Lower 48 that helped tribes implement SDVCJ was incredibly successful, allowing tribes to prosecute and defend their citizens. Similarly, the federal government hopes to enact a pilot program to help Alaska native communities navigate this jurisdiction.

Next steps

These expansions have been a reaction to tireless advocacy from Indigenous people and while tribes work to implement STCJ, there is still much work to be done to educate attorneys and other organizations about this jurisdiction.

You are not alone

For Indigenous-centered resources:

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help. Sanctuary’s services are free and available to all survivors living in New York City, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, marital or immigration status.

Our services include:

No More Stolen Sisters: Violence Against Indigenous Women and the Fight to Raise Awareness

From almost nonexistent media attention to jurisdictional neglect, Indigenous victims of gender-based violence are often overlooked despite being grossly overrepresented as victims of violence.

Molly Simons is an Institutional Giving Intern at Sanctuary for Families. A senior at Trinity College, she is writing a thesis about violence against Indigenous women. ________________________________________________________________________________

While only referencing the U.S., this blog post will use Indigenous to refer to American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities and members.

Sometime before 2016, a young Indigenous woman—let’s call her Rose—was strangled by her husband (for various reasons involving the privacy of victims and minors, the woman’s name and age remain confidential.) Rose was an enrolled member of the Yaqui Tribe of Arizona; her husband, Frank Jaimez, was 19 years old and non-Indigenous. Frank was prosecuted for the strangling and convicted of a crime, but he still returned to the house with Rose. And the abuse continued (ADI).

Indigenous women (and two-spirit people) are grossly overrepresented as victims of violence

Frank’s abuse toward Rose reflects a larger historical trend of violence against Indigenous people that stems from an invasion of Indigenous space—both Indigenous land and bodies. In particular, Indigenous women and other gender and sexual minorities are grossly overrepresented as victims of violence.

Rose is part of the more than 4 in 5 Indigenous women who have experienced violence in their lifetime, and the scale of this problem is immense: over 5,700 Indigenous women and girls are considered to be missing or murdered. Over half of Indigenous women have also reported experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime, 96 percent of which has been at the hands of non-Indigenous perpetrators. And these statistics are deadly—for Indigenous women and girls, the homicide rate is over six times higher than it is for their white counterparts.

Similarly to Rose, more than half of Indigenous women have experienced physical violence by intimate partners in their lifetime. Again, these statistics are fatal. Indigenous women victims of intimate partner violence lose an average of 38.3 potential years of life per death in a study of 16 states.

Indigenous people who identify as two-spirit, a blanket term often used to describe queer and LGBTQ+ Indigenous people, similarly face heightened levels of violence. One recent report found that nearly all participants who identified as two-spirit had experienced sexual assault, with almost 90% experiencing two or more forms of violence.

These statistics are staggering and yet still relatively unknown to the public.

This is because Indigenous women are at the crossroads of oversight

From almost nonexistent media attention to jurisdictional neglect, Indigenous women who experience violence are often overlooked and left to advocate for themselves and their family members and friends alone.

According to a report released by the Urban Indian Health Institute in 2017, of about 500 cases of murdered Indigenous women and two-spirit people, 95 percent were not covered by national or international media. Media response is drastically different for missing and murdered people of other races, especially missing upper and middle-class white women and girls whose stories often garner the attention of the nation.

Jurisdictional oversight continues to plague federal and state court systems that should assist Indigenous women in winning convictions over their abusers, many of whom are not Indigenous. This oversight is a lasting impact of a 1978 decision in which the Supreme Court held that tribal courts had lost the authority to try non-Indigenous perpetrators when the tribes had become dependents of the United States. As a result, many crimes against Indigenous women simply went unprosecuted. Tribal courts often lacked the resources to try non-Indigenous people, and the federal government often lacked the resolve to pick up those cases, so Indigenous communities became playgrounds for crime and violence.

Steps in the right direction

In September 2016, Frank Jaimez, the defendant from above, came home to find that Rose had propped the door to their house open, waiting for her daughter to come home. Frank demanded that Rose close the door, and the couple began arguing. During that argument, Frank picked up Rose’s property and smashed it on the ground. Fearful, Rose called the tribal police, who arrested Frank. This time, Frank was not only prosecuted, he was sent to prison by the Pascua Yaqui tribal court (ADI).

Until 2013 and the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), that prosecution in tribal court would not have been possible. But after advocacy from Indigenous activists, VAWA 2013 authorized tribal courts to prosecute domestic violence cases even when the abuser was a non-Indigenous person.

In the legal sphere, this increase of jurisdiction is crucial to helping women like Rose, but media attention for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls still falls short of adequate.

Thus, Indigenous advocates have turned to visual activism

The REDress Project by artist Jamie Black calls attention to the ongoing crisis of violence against Indigenous women. Black, a Métis and Finnish artist committed to raising awareness of the Movement for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, created a display showing empty red dresses hung from tree branches. The REDress Project garnered attention, and the movement grew, expanding to most of North America. This display of red dresses of all shapes and sizes hung in the trees has become a recognizable symbol in the fight against violence.

Another distinct symbol in the fight against violence against Indigenous women is a red handprint painted over the mouth. Seen first on Boston marathon competitor Jordan Marie Brings Three White Horses Daniel (Kul Wicasa Oyate, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe), she painted the red handprint on her face to “break the silence of the violence happening on our Indigenous womxn and peoples“. The red handprint has gained recognition and has now been featured on billboard campaigns and in the first season of Canada’s Drag Race.

The fight continues

There is much to be done to continue the work of this political and artistic activism. Subsequent VAWA reauthorizations have awarded expanded jurisdiction to tribal courts, but there are still restrictions that infringe on tribal courts effectiveness.

Working to further these expansions through state government is LT. Governor Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Band of Ojibwe) of Minnesota. Flanagan recognizes that the necessity for electing Indigenous women and people to positions of power saying, “When we are at the table, the conversations change“. These conversations have helped turn attention and resources to the issue, highlighting the need for more Indigenous women and people in power.

A continual push from both Indigenous activists and non-Indigenous people can emphasize the importance of expanded jurisdiction. Promoting and talking with Indigenous activists, as well as calling members of Congress, are all ways to amplify Indigenous voices and issues.

Indigenous space has long been infringed upon, but continued legislative advocacy and visual activism will help tribes in their fight to regain long overdue jurisdiction and sovereignty.

You are not alone

For Indigenous-centered resources:

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help. Sanctuary’s services are free and available to all survivors living in New York City, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, marital or immigration status.

Our services include:

Latham & Watkins Team Secure Clemency Grant for Incarcerated Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor a Latham & Watkins team for their outstanding work securing a clemency grant for an incarcerated survivor.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to honor Latham & Watkins’ Melange Gavin, Wendy Gu, and Jamie Wine, and former Latham attorneys Brittany Ehardt and Jaclyn Newman, for their outstanding work securing a clemency grant for an incarcerated survivor of gender-based violence.

Last year, we shared on our blog that, after over 10 years of incarceration, domestic violence survivor Jacqueline Smalls had been granted clemency by Governor Kathy Hochul. Today, we are honored to highlight the Above & Beyond honorees who made this happen through their outstanding dedication, creative lawyering, and advocacy. Latham & Watkins associates Melange Gavin and Wendy Gu, and former associates Brittany Ehardt and Jaclyn Newman, with supervision and strategic guidance from partner Jamie Wine, worked with Jacqueline over a period of three years. During this time, they built a strong relationship with their client and worked tirelessly to advocate for her release, focusing on both a Domestic Violence Survivors’ Justice Act (DVSJA) resentencing motion and a clemency grant as possible pathways to her freedom.

Both options posed significant challenges: while a DVSJA motion would reduce Jacqueline’s sentence, resulting in her release for time served under the more favorable DVSJA sentencing guidelines, it would also have required a difficult and retraumatizing resentencing hearing. A clemency grant, meanwhile, relied entirely on the discretion of the governor’s office, and necessitated an enormous amount of work with no guarantee that it would result in success given the low numbers of clemency grants awarded each year. The team ultimately decided to pursue the clemency path anyway, knowing that if it were unsuccessful, they could pivot to a DVSJA motion down the line. As part of this process, the Latham team worked on a comprehensive clemency application that included a video of Jacqueline and other survivor clemency applicants, engaged in extensive legal advocacy, and met with the governor’s clemency bureau.

The case for Jacqueline’s release was extraordinarily compelling. During their two-year relationship, Jacqueline’s partner had subjected her to intense physical abuse—including strangulation, one of the highest lethality risk factors—and had been subsequently arrested several times. On the night of August 26, 2012, Jacqueline’s abuser entered her home in violation of two Orders of Protection that she had obtained against him. As her abuser moved to confront Jacqueline, she stabbed him once with a kitchen knife, killing him. Despite the obvious history of domestic violence, trauma, and clear danger to Jacqueline that evening, prosecutors charged her with second-degree murder. Jacqueline ultimately entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter and received a 15-year sentence. On December 21, 2022, Governor Hochul announced that she was granting clemency to Jaqueline, along with twelve others. Sanctuary and the Latham team were overjoyed with the news.

We are so thrilled to highlight the incredible work undertaken by Jaclyn, Melange, Wendy, Brittany, and Jamie. Thanks to their advocacy, Jacqueline was released and reunited with her family in January 2023. Staff members from Sanctuary were present alongside the Latham team to welcome Jacqueline home and join her and her family for Jacqueline’s first meal outside prison in over 10 years. It was truly incredible to witness firsthand the warmth and trust that had developed between the team and Jacqueline after their years of fighting together to correct this failure of our criminal legal system.

Director of the Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative Ross Kramer said,

“The Latham team’s outstanding legal work made a life-changing impact in this case. They believed in Jacqueline from the start, and they delivered. Their representation gave Jacqueline years of her life back, to spend with family, friends, and community. This would not have happened without the Latham team’s advocacy, creativity, and dedication.”

Latham’s Public Service Counsel and Director of Global Pro Bono Laura Atkinson-Hope concluded,

“Securing clemency for Ms. Smalls was the result of tremendous dedication and tireless effort from the team as well as incredible strategic guidance from Sanctuary for Families. I am so proud of everyone involved in achieving this result, and so grateful for our longstanding partnership with Sanctuary.”

To read more about this incredible case, including our interview with the team, please see here.

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Latham & Watkins’ outstanding pro bono work.



Romy Felsen-Parsons is the Pro Bono Project Assistant at Sanctuary for Families.