Barclays and O’Melveny & Myers Attorneys Help Trafficking Victims Secure T-Visas

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Barclays and O’Melveny & Myers for their compassionate and hardworking pro bono assistance on behalf of trafficking survivors “Hana” and “Min-ji” in their successful applications for T nonimmigrant visas.

Nicole Vescova is an associate in the Labor & Employment Group at Ellenoff Grossman & Schloe LLP and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.  

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Barclays and O’Melveny & Myers (“O’Melveny”) for their compassionate and hardworking pro bono assistance on behalf of “Hana” and “Min-ji” in their successful applications for T nonimmigrant visas (sometimes referred to as “T-Visas”). The team consisted of former O’Melveny associates Richard Spatola (now at IBM) and Carolyn Baek (now at Barclays); O’Melveny partner Sung Pak; O’Melveny associate Matthew Murphy; and O’Melveny staff attorney Grace Lee.

ESCAPING TRAFFICKING

Min-ji

Min-ji first started dating “Marc” while visiting the United States from South Korea. After she returned home, they communicated often and Marc relentlessly urged her to come back to America, promising to marry her. Sadly, Marc’s persistence was a ploy to exploit her. Immediately upon her arrival, Marc forced Min-ji into labor and confiscated all of her earnings. He was physically and mentally abusive. He was possessive and controlled all of her movements and finances. Marc also attempted to force Min-ji into prostitution on multiple occasions.

After a particularly vicious episode of domestic violence, Min-ji bravely fled to the local precinct and filed a report. Fortunately for Min-ji, Marc was arrested. After speaking with Min-ji, the assistant district attorney assigned to the matter realized that Min-ji was not only a victim of domestic violence but also a victim of labor trafficking and referred Min-ji to Sanctuary for Families.

Hana

Ironically, Hana’s chance of freedom came the moment she was arrested. Hana, originally from Korea, was discovered during a sting operation involving an illegal “out-call service” operation—a call center where people could “order” women to come to motels and provide sexual services. Making matters worse, the out-call operation that was prosecuted and shut down had fostered a drug addiction among the workers. Her traffickers exploited that addiction, keeping Hana in debt to obtain drugs so that no matter how much she “worked” she would never make any money to escape. Fortunately, Sanctuary for Families had persuaded the NYPD to refer the women being exploited at the out-call center to Sanctuary after taking them into custody but before processing them in order to identify any trafficking victims. Sanctuary for Families provided supportive services so Hana could overcome her addiction and seek freedom.

COMPASSIONATE CARE & ZEALOUS ADVOCACY

Both Min-ji and Hana were severely traumatized by their experiences. Min-ji came to America under the impression of romance and false promises of marriage, but was instead tricked into involuntary servitude. She struggled horribly with self-blame. Hana had faced a pattern of abuse throughout her life, including childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, and repeated sex trafficking. Given this traumatic history, she initially did not even understand that this latest form of abuse was a crime; she could not comprehend that she was worthy of being treated with care or compassion.

Both women needed legal assistance to help them obtain lawful immigration status and employment authorization. Lori Cohen, former Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative, recognized the importance of assigning culturally and linguistically competent attorneys to their cases who would not only be able to navigate the legal issues ahead, but who would be sensitive to complicated sets of emotions these women struggled with and to treat them with respect. Lori reached out to trusted pro bono attorney Carolyn Baek, who at the time was working at O’Melveny. Carolyn assembled teams at O’Melveny to help both women. From the moment Carolyn and the teams met the two women, they treated them kindly and respectfully, allowing them to recognize their own value. Carolyn was dedicated to working compassionately with both Min-ji and Hana, and when she left O’Melveny in 2018 and moved to Barclays, Carolyn ensured continuity of representation by co-counseling with the team at O’Melveny so she could remain involved in her clients’ immigration journeys.

According to Lori,

“Carolyn and the O’Melveny/Barclays team achieved spectacular victories for these clients. The two women had histories that were completely different from one another, but they both experienced horrific abuse and were in need of highly skilled counsel.  This team not only provided excellent legal analyses to produce compelling applications, but also demonstrated a level of respect for these vulnerable woman that was deeply moving. And their cultural competency — the ability to speak directly with the clients to grasp the nuances of some of the abuse — was key to their success.”

CONCERNS ABOUT INADMISSIBILITY

When applying for a T visa, the individual must not only show that she is a victim of a “severe form of trafficking,” but also that she is “admissible,” that is, no bars to her eligibility exist. Hana, having been blackmailed and subjected to horrific abuse by the organized crime ring that exploited her, clearly was a victim of a “severe form of trafficking.” However, Sanctuary recognized that USCIS may have viewed Hana’s drug addiction as a ground of inadmissibility that would bar a visa, or worse, consider Hana herself to be a drug trafficker.

Sanctuary knew that Hana needed a legal team that could clearly spell out the link between the addiction fostered by Hana’s traffickers and the mounting indebtedness that it created as the abusive tactics used by the traffickers to ensure Hana’s captivity, not a grounds of inadmissibility. Given the increased scrutiny over these types of cases, particularly in any one that mentions drugs, this was by no means a certain argument. However, the O’Melveny team had prepared such a strong application that so amply documented the operations of the trafficking ring that Hana’s application was approved without any push-back from USCIS. This was a significant victory, and Hana, now drug free and working full time, has reclaimed her life.

OVERCOMING T-VISA APPLICATION CHALLENGES

When USCIS challenged Min-ji’s initial visa application on the grounds that she “merely” faced domestic violence, as opposed to labor trafficking, Carolyn and Lori brought Min-ji to the US Attorney’s Office to advocate on her behalf and help them understand the nature of the trafficking. During the interview, Carolyn, who speaks Korean, noticed that the interpreter was improperly translating Min-ji’s testimony and was instead using language that blamed her. Uncomfortable with the judgmental tenor of the translation, Carolyn immediately requested the interview be terminated. After counseling Min-ji regarding the problems with the interpreter, a second interview was conducted.

With proper translation, the US Attorney’s Office understood that despite the initial romantic relationship between Min-ji and her trafficker, the relationship had turned exploitative and Min-ji had in fact been labor trafficked by her partner. The Department of Justice ultimately supported Min-ji’s T-Visa application. This resulted not only in USCIS approving Min-ji’s application, but it also represented a pivotal moment in educating law enforcement and USCIS about the interplay between labor trafficking and domestic violence.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 12, 2019, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor this 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.

My Voice Is Powerful and So Is Yours

Survivor Leader Alida Tchicamboud discusses her advocacy work and the importance of shelter and affordable housing for survivors of domestic violence.

Alida is a domestic violence advocate, Survivor Leader at Sanctuary for Families, and founder of Healing Hands International, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting victims of Domestic Violence.

Last week, I testified to the New York City Council about my experience in a domestic violence shelter and the challenges other survivors face in the shelter system when looking for affordable housing.

I am so excited to have been quoted in this article about a city council hearing I testified at alongside Helen Rosenthal, a Council Member and chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equity:

“Some of the issues raised by the Council members were echoed by survivors who testified as well. Alida Tchicamboud, a survivor leader at Sanctuary for Families, a domestic violence survivor service provider, emphasized how the city’s shelter system saved her life. But there were hurdles along the way, she explained. ‘It seems like the system works against survivors, especially for single women with dependent minor children, by forcing them to go back into the cycle of lifetime public assistance,’ she said.”

I am also appreciative of Council member Brad Lander who tweeted my intervention and qualified it as “Smart & courageous”

By sharing my experience, thoughts and opinions, I encouraged HRA to take action where needed. I believe that my suggestions carry a lot of weight and I hope that it will influence policy decisions, because it is without a doubt that survivors of domestic violence need:

  1. At least one year stay in transitional shelters to build themselves first
  2. Imperatively an increase of the City vouchers every year to match the rent stabilization guidelines
  3. Building more affordable permanent housing units with survivors of domestic violence as the top priorities to occur those facilities
  4. Trauma-focus approaches while exiting shelters…

There are many ways to get involved in the effort to support survivors of domestic violence.

IN THE WORKPLACE

Domestic violence is not a “personal” issue, because it has no boundaries, it does not stay home. Approximately 60% of adults in the U.S. work, so chances are that in a given workplace, many employees are victims, perpetrators, or have a friend or family member who is a victim. Employers have to prepared to deal with domestic violence. Below are some ideas that can be explored in the workplace:

  • Educate yourself on the subject
  • Review the Employee and Family Assistance Plan (EFAP) services if you have them, to ensure that they identify services related to exposure to trauma and offer options and resources available to victims
  • Train managers and supervisors on how to recognize and respond to signs of domestic violence / how to address related issues such as privacy and confidentiality
  • Leaders should help and not judge and show concern for employees well-being
  • Build awareness because domestic violence is not always “visible”
  • Managers, don’t discriminate allow victims to take the time off to appear in court, apply for a protection order or seek medical attention…

I advocate to help survivors get the help they need to build a new future. Do you advocate?

It’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month!

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month – check out our list of exciting ways you can get involved!

Domestic violence is one of the most common, yet least discussed issues affecting Americans today. Even if we haven’t experienced it ourselves, odds are we love someone who has suffered (or is currently suffering) at the hands of their intimate partner – According to the NCADV,  1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking, among other forms of abuse that fall under the umbrella of domestic violence

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of Public Law 101-112, which designates October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) and calls on the people “to observe this month by becoming more aware of the tragedy of domestic violence, supporting those who are working to end domestic violence, and participating in other appropriate efforts.” As usual, Sanctuary is joining millions of survivors and advocates throughout DVAM to bring the issue of domestic violence to the forefront of the public’s attention, raise awareness about our services, honor the memory of those we’ve lost, and celebrate strength and courage of our clients and of survivors across the country.

We hope that you, too, will honor the survivors in your life by joining us as we break the silence around domestic violence. Check out a list of exciting opportunities below and stay tuned for more DVAM updated throughout this month!

ATTEND AN EVENT

Oct. 1st & 8th: NBC’s Domestic Violence Vigils: Commemorating Victims of Domestic Violence

Oct. 4th: CLE:  Investigating and Prosecuting Intimate Partner Traffickers

Oct. 5th: Bronx 5K Run/Walk/Roll to End Domestic Violence

Oct. 24thThe Intersection of Intimate Partner Violence and Cyber Abuse

Oct. 25th & 26th: Gibney & Sanctuary for Families Present: Cracks of Light

Oct. 27th2019 Vision for Change: A Survivor-Led Conference to End Gender-Based Violence

SPEAK OUT

Stand with survivors of domestic violence! Talk to your friends, family, and colleagues; share information through social media; let your representatives know that the silence surrounding domestic violence must end!

On Facebook: Show your support for survivors by adding a #StandWithSurvivors temporary frame to your profile picture

On Instagram & Twitter: Go purple to raise awareness about domestic violence!

  • Change your profile pictures to all-purple for the month of October by downloading this image or by taking a screenshot of our latest Tweet and Instagram post
  • Share graphics from our Social Media Toolkit using the hashtags #StandWithSurvivors & #NoLoveInViolence and tagging @sffny
  • Drive the conversation on why we must #StandWithSurvivors using our graphics (or create your own!) and tag @sffny

Tag us @SFFNY (Twitter & Instagram) or @SanctuaryforFamilies (Facebook) and use the hashtags: #NoLoveInViolence #StandWithSurvivors

VOLUNTEER

We engage over 2,000 volunteers annually. Learn more about our diverse volunteer and internship opportunities by clicking here.

DONATE

You can make a difference for thousands of adults and children every year. Give today.

Skadden Attorneys Help Client Secure Dismissal with Prejudice in Contentious Hague Petition Abduction Case

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP for their dedicated and powerful advocacy on behalf of their client, “Jocelyn Brown” throughout a contentious and complex international abduction case. 

Victoria O. Abraham is an associate in the Mergers & Acquisitions group at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP and a co-chair of the Above & Beyond Committee on Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP for their dedicated and powerful advocacy on behalf of their client, “Jocelyn Brown” throughout a contentious and complex international abduction  case.  We are pleased to honor this incredible team consisting of former associates Erin Simmons and Donna Farag, partners Lea Haber Kuck and Pat Rideout, and associates Mackenzie Newman, Christina Pryor, Maria da Silva, Chris Fredmonski, Tamar Lisbona, Caitlyn Cheleden, Joshua Atkinson, Molly Brien, Belinda Huang, Grace Jun and Pippa Hyde.

In December of 2018, a team of attorneys from Skadden took on the representation of Jocelyn Brown (“Ms. Brown”), a mother of three young children, in a case brought by her husband and the children’s father under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Hague Convention”) in the Eastern District of New York. The Hague Convention is an international treaty that provides a mechanism for addressing international child abductions. Under the Hague Convention, if a child is removed without consent from a Hague Convention signatory country to another Hague Convention signatory country, the left-behind parent can file an action in the court system of the country where the children have been removed to.  In this case, Ms. Brown had fled from the U.K. to New York with her three children to escape the domestic violence perpetrated by her husband.  The children’s father initiated an action in United States District Court, Eastern District of New York demanding the return of the children to the U.K.

Due to the nature of the relief sought, the Skadden team worked tirelessly to defend Ms. Brown from the “abduction” allegations brought against her by her husband.  Hague Convention cases are required by law to move quickly through the system and so immediately after Sanctuary contacted Skadden about representing Ms. Brown, the team had to hit the ground running. Under an extremely expedited timeframe, the Skadden team appeared in Court to respond to allegations that Ms. Brown and her family had evaded service. The team also answered the Hague Petition, propounded and responded to discovery requests, engaged a forensic psychologist to interview Ms. Brown and the children and to prepare a report documenting the effects of the domestic violence on the family, and ultimately prepared the case for trial in federal court.

“We had a team of attorneys who pulled together to work under demanding timeframes over the holidays to respond to the Hague Petition that was filed against the client,” said former associate Erin Simmons.  “Our team leveraged a wealth of experience and worked around the clock to achieve the best possible outcome for the client and her family.”

According to Erin, Sanctuary’s resources and connections were invaluable in helping the Skadden team prepare for trial:

“Sanctuary is a leading nonprofit in Hague representations for domestic violence survivors and they have significant expertise in this practice area.  Sanctuary connected us with the pro bono team from Paul Weiss, also working on a Hague Convention case in the E.D.N.Y, who was instrumental in helping our team navigate the representation.  Sanctuary also connected us with a forensic psychologist willing to perform the evaluations under the expedited timeframe set by the federal court.  That connection made a tremendous difference in our ability to defend our client.”

“The Hague Convention as drafted and implemented does not provide adequate protection for primary caretaker parents—typically mothers—who come to the United States to protect themselves and their children from dangerous domestic violence perpetrated against them by the left-behind parent,” said Sanctuary Pro Bono Director Nicole Fidler.  “For that reason, the expedited nature of the cases, and the high stakes, Hague litigation can be very challenging and I am deeply grateful for our dedicated Hague Convention partner law firms, like Skadden, who take this challenge on without question.  The work Skadden did on behalf of Ms. Brown was off the charts.” 

The Skadden team benefited directly from partner Lea Haber Kuck’s international legal experience and partner Pat Rideout’s trial experience as well as invaluable contributions from associates Mackenzie Newman, Christina Pryor, Maria da Silva, Chris Fredmonski, Tamar Lisbona and Caitlyn Cheleden and former associates Erin Simmons and Donna Farag, who approached the enormous task of litigating a federal case in three months with confidence and enthusiasm.

On the eve of trial, the Skadden team suggested a mediation and ultimately brokered a favorable settlement that secured the dismissal of the case with prejudice, which means that the case cannot be re-filed,  allowing Ms. Brown to remain with her children in New York subject to modest access terms for the children’s father. The settlement also provided for a dismissal with prejudice of a family court case that was pending in the U.K.

Mackenzie Newman said,

“Working with the kids was very rewarding. They were the ones who the whole case was about.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 12, 2019, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor the outstanding pro bono work by the team from Skadden.  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.