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.

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.

Cozen O’Connor Team Secures Survivor’s Release From Prison

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to honor a Cozen O’Connor team who secured their client’s release from prison after more than 10 years of incarceration.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to honor Cozen O’Connor Members Matthew L. Elkin and Emily Shoor, associate Maria Ermakova, and former Cozen O’Connor associate Lisa Coutu. Matt, Emily, Maria, and Lisa spent three years working to secure their client’s release from prison after more than 10 years of incarceration.

We previously wrote a June 2023 Pro Bono Spotlight highlighting the outstanding work of Cozen O’Connor Members Matthew L. Elkin and Emily Shoor, who, together with associate Maria Ermakova and former Cozen associate Lisa Coutu, helped to secure the release of their client, Ms. S, through a Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA)¹  resentencing motion. Without the DVSJA resentencing, Ms. S would have served nearly 15 more years for her manslaughter conviction, in which she stabbed her former partner and abuser after he broke into her home in the middle of the night and attacked her. Incredibly, the dangerous and traumatic history of domestic violence was never brought up for consideration during Ms. S’s trial. We are deeply grateful to Emily, Matt, Maria, and Lisa for investing hundreds of hours into securing freedom for this deeply deserving survivor.

Ms. S, like so many incarcerated women, suffered horrific abuse throughout her life from several intimate partners. The abuse by her now-deceased former partner, Mr. B, included severe sexual, psychological, and physical abuse, including many incidents of strangulation to the point of unconsciousness. The kind of abuse she suffered put Ms. S at significantly high risk of femicide at the hands of her abuser. Ultimately, Ms. S left Mr. B and began to implement an exit strategy. However, the day before Ms. S was scheduled to move, she woke up to realize that Mr. B had broken into her apartment. Mr. B attacked Ms. S, throwing her against a wall and strangling her. To protect herself, Ms. S grabbed a nearby sharp object and stabbed Mr. B once. The blow was not intended to be fatal – in fact, Ms. S immediately began conducting CPR on Mr. B, and she did not know that Mr. B had died until the police revealed it to her in questioning.

As mentioned, shockingly, this history of domestic violence and the circumstances surrounding Mr. B’s death were never raised at trial. Ms. S was acquitted of second degree murder but convicted of manslaughter in the first degree and given the maximum sentence of 25 years.

While incarcerated, Ms. S reached out to Sanctuary for legal assistance. Sanctuary recruited the law firm of Cozen O’Connor to help Ms. S with her case, and Elkin, Shoor, Ermakova, and Coutu eagerly agreed to submit a DVSJA resentencing application on Ms. S’s behalf. Some of this work included compiling letters from her family members, tracking down old documents related to the case, and drafting a comprehensive brief and client affidavit that compellingly illustrated the direct connection between the history of domestic violence and the crime of conviction. To create these materials, the Cozen team met with Ms. S over the course of several years, building a strong relationship based on trust and empathy as they delved back into Ms. S’s extensive trauma history.

Ultimately, after a meeting with the District Attorney’s office to present Ms. S’s story and months of strategic advocacy, the DA consented to the re-sentencing. With that consent, the Judge ordered Ms. S’s release at the first court appearance and she was out of prison and reunited with her family the following afternoon.

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

“The Cozen team went ‘above and beyond’ by advocating for Ms. S with skill, tenacity, and persistence over the course of this very long and difficult case. In their three years representing Ms. S, the team gave her hope. For the first time, she believed that attorneys were listening to her, that they believed her, and that they would fight for her. Ms. S was incarcerated for 11 difficult years. But because of the Cozen team’s efforts, more than half her sentence was wiped out. The team literally gave Ms. S back more than a decade of her life – a decade that she can now spend reconnecting with her friends, family and community.”

Cozen Director of Pro Bono Engagement Melinda Levine deLisle concluded,

“I am so proud of the dedication and hard work of the Cozen O’Connor team over the last few years to free Ms. S, and so grateful to Sanctuary for Families for its leadership in this important cause and for giving us the opportunity to contribute.”

We are so grateful to Emily, Matt, Maria, and Lisa for their amazing work and are so thrilled that Ms. S is home at last.

To read more about this incredible case, including our interview with Emily and Matt, please see here.

¹ Criminal Procedure Law § 440.47(1), known as the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA), allows the sentencing court to resentence a domestic violence survivor who suffered sexual, psychological or physical abuse that contributed to their conviction if certain criteria are met.

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



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

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP Represents Survivor in International Child Abduction Trial Victory

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to honor a team of dedicated Davis Polk attorneys.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families will honor Ms. A’s dedicated team of Davis Polk attorneys who achieved a remarkable win in a multi-day federal trial that will help Ms. A and her children stay together in the United States.

The Davis Polk team consists of members from both the New York and Madrid offices, including associates Brendan A. Blase, Mollie E. Hamel, Meredith Manning, James Y. Park, Ryann Moelis, Matthew Stratis Vasilakos, Zoë Smith, Maria Morris, and Paul Shortell; former associate Emma Schwartz; Foreign Associate Jacqueline Berkenstadt; Counsel and Head of Pro Bono Litigation Dara L. Sheinfeld; Chief Pro Bono Counsel Amelia T.R. Starr; and Counsel Ester del Valle Izquierdo.

After Ms. A fled Spain with her two children, her abusive former intimate partner initiated proceedings in both Spain and New York to return the children to him in Spain. Ms. A was determined to remain in New York and maintain the stable and loving environment she had built for her family, and remain with the community that had welcomed her and children in New York, away from the abusive environment in Spain. Ms. A worked with her incredible team of Davis Polk attorneys to quickly prepare for the fast-approaching bench trial to prevent the return of the children to their father.

Shortly after Ms. A’s intake with Sanctuary for Families, Davis Polk assembled a super team of lawyers at all levels to represent her in a proceeding filed pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Hague Convention”) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Davis Polk Associate Zoë Smith described Ms. A as “an incredible woman. She’s so resilient and joyful, and put so much faith and trust in us.” With the trial fast approaching, Zoë and associate Ryann Moelis became very close with Ms. A, learning how to support her from a trauma-informed perspective. “The case only goes as well as your client feels,” Ryann said. Zoë and Ryann worked extensively with Ms. A at her own pace to ensure she was completely comfortable and ready for her testimony at trial. At the same time, Associate Mollie Hamel and other associates engaged in extensive drafting to respond to Ms. A’s former partner’s constant filing of motions. In addition to close client contact and drafting, another benefit Davis Polk’s innovative pro bono team model provides is assigning an associate to each of the witnesses – in this case nine – to be presented at trial. The associates were responsible for preparing the witnesses, drafting outlines, and ultimately for conducting direct or cross-examination. At the beginning of the trial, in order for less seasoned attorneys to gain courtroom experience, Davis Polk requested – and the judge allowed – certain rules and structure to allow associates to address the court and present oral argument while supported by more senior attorneys. As a result, Davis Polk associates developed new skills and gained important training, all while diligently fighting on behalf of Ms. A.

As part of their defense of Ms. A, the Davis Polk team successfully argued that Ms. A’s children were well settled in their new home and community as evidenced by their success in school and sports, regular participation in church activities, and connections with local family.  Additionally, the court agreed with the team’s showing – with the aid of an expert – that Ms. A’s older child was mature enough to have their desire to stay in New York with their mother and sibling considered by the court.  Finally, the court determined that even though Ms. A’s younger child was not mature enough to weigh in on the decision about whether they would return to Spain, the siblings were so bonded that they should not be separated.  Ultimately, the court decided that the children should not be returned to Spain under the Hague Convention and should stay in New York together with their mother to continue to grow and flourish.  Notably, in a footnote in the opinion, the court commended the Davis Polk team “for the vigor and skill with which they litigated this difficult case, and for their donation of substantial time and resources.  Their pro bono work on this case has been in the finest tradition of this District.”

Ms. A and her pro bono team’s work together to successfully obtain the favorable decision will help Ms. A continue to build safety, security, and community for her children.

Nicole Fidler, Director of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Project, was thrilled when Dara L. Sheinfeld, Counsel and Head of Pro Bono Litigation at Davis Polk, agreed to take on Ms. A’s federal Hague Convention case:

“After Dara and I met with Ms. A a few times to better understand the history of abuse and Ms. A’s possible defenses, Dara enthusiastically agreed to build a litigation team at Davis Polk to represent Ms. A.  Dara and Davis Polk always do a phenomenal job representing survivors, and this was no exception.  This was a powerhouse team that strategically handled every challenge thrown at them throughout the case – and there were many.  I was constantly impressed by their dedication, compassion, and lawyering skills.  This was a hard-fought win, and I am so grateful for all the work they did in partnership with Ms. A, and for everything Davis Polk attorneys do to help survivors of gender-based violence.”

While the district court judge issued a favorable decision for Ms. A and the Davis Polk team, her former partner has appealed the decision to the Second Circuit. Fortunately, Ms. A and the Davis Polk team are already working together on the appeal.

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



Anastasia Regne is an associate with the Employment, Pensions & Incentives team at Herbert Smith Freehills in New York and a member of Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Council.