Simpson Thacher Secures T-Visa for Survivor Despite Many Setbacks

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (“Simpson Thacher”) for their compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of “Talia” to obtain T Nonimmigrant status.

Nicole Vescova an associate in the Labor & Employment group at Ellenoff Grossman & Schole LLP where she represents and advises businesses in all industries. She is also a member of the Pro Bono Counsel.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (“Simpson Thacher”) for their compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of “Talia” to obtain T Nonimmigrant status. The team consisted of Pro Bono Counsel Harlene Katzman, and associates, Dan Levien and Daniel Owsley at Simpson Thacher.

Talia was a young teenager living in her home country when Andrew professed his love for her and asked him to move in with his family. Talia accepted Andrew’s offer, leaving behind her abusive childhood home. Soon after Talia gave birth to their daughter, Andrew convinced Talia that they should head to the United States to seek work and build a better life for their family. Talia knew her daughter was too young to make the dangerous journey across the border, and although hesitant to leave her daughter, Andrew’s forceful urgings to leave and promises that the daughter would be cared for convinced Talia to follow him. Unbeknownst to Talia, Andrew and his family were traffickers.

Talia arrived to America without having any knowledge of the English language or any ties to the country, and most heart wrenching, without her daughter. Immediately, Andrew and his family began harassing Talia, telling her that she owed them a debt for getting her into the country and threatening that they would harm her daughter if she did not pay up. Talia felt trapped, worn down and terrified, and was ultimately forced to “work” in a brothel at Andrew’s demand.

After about a year of being sex trafficked, Talia escaped and went into hiding. Displeased with Talia’s actions, Andrew’s family began harassing Talia’s mother, who was caring for Talia’s daughter back in their home country.  Desperate to see her daughter, Talia took the risk to return home, praying she would not be seen but was unfortunately spotted by her traffickers. Andrew’s family continued to threaten her. Realizing she was not safe there, she again returned to the United States.

When originally referred to Simpson Thacher in 2014, the attorneys thought Talia’s application for T Nonimmigrants Status was straightforward. All were surprised when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied her application claiming that she was not present in the U.S. on account of trafficking. Undeterred, Simpson Thacher submitted a motion to reconsider, arguing that USCIS erroneously interpreted the applicable law; Talia had been effectively chased out of her home country by her trafficker’s family. Although the motion was extremely well-written and compelling, that motion was also unfortunately denied by USCIS.

The team was back to square one – but their commitment never wavered. Without T-Visa status Talia would be vulnerable in the US, and if deported back to her home country, her safety was in grave danger.

The team decided to take a different approach. Despite her fear of retaliation, Talia cooperated with law enforcement. Harlene Katzman of the team states that Talia was an extremely motivated and protective mother – “everything she did was orientated towards the safety of her daughter.” She ultimately received continued presence from the Government, which the team used to file a second application for T Nonimmigrants Status.

Talia remained strong throughout the difficult process where she had to re-hash the abuse and exploitation she previously suffered, and the Simpson Thacher team stayed by her side the whole time. Finally, USCIS granted Talia’s second application for T Nonimmigrant Status and granted derivative status to her daughter. Talia and her daughter were reunited this summer, after many years of living apart and in fear.

Jessica-Wind Abolafia, of Sanctuary for Families, applauds the skills, strategy, and perseverance the Simpson Thacher team brought to the matter.

“The team was ready to move mountains – they never gave up. The client knew she had a team that was going to bat for her, and this was crucial in getting her through such a difficult time.” — Jessica-Wind Abolafia, Sanctuary Anti-Trafficking Initiative Director.

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Harlene, Dan, and Daniel. 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.

Stroock Attorneys Fight for Sex Trafficking Survivor’s Housing Rights

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP for their tireless pro bono work on behalf of “Christina,” a survivor of sex trafficking.

Annika is a Development Intern at Sanctuary and a rising first-year student at Stanford University. She is passionate about politics and criminal justice and hopes to study public policy and English in college.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP for their tireless pro bono work on behalf of “Christina,” a survivor of sex trafficking. The incredible team, consisting of Stroock Partner Michele Jacobson and associates Alexandra Lyon and Robert Mantel, was successful in helping Christina reinstate her tenancy after it was wrongfully terminated by the New York City Housing Authority.

Christina

Sanctuary client “Christina” has overcome a tremendous amount of adversity in her life, including a long history of abuse and exploitation at the hands of traffickers and others in the commercial sex industry, drug addiction, and the loss of custody of one of her children. Despite the hardship she has faced, Christina successfully turned her life around, has been drug-free for over eight years, has held a steady job, and has created a safe and stable home for her daughter at their New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartment.

The stability Christina had fought so hard for came under threat when NYCHA held a hearing in April 2019, resulting in the termination of her tenancy several months later. Due to a sex offender designation, she obtained through entering a plea deal with the FBI for cooperating against one of her traffickers, NYCHA determined that she and her daughter were not fit to remain in their home. On the brink of losing her home and the new life she had built, Christina turned to Sanctuary and an incredible team of pro bono lawyers from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan for help. Reflecting on his first meeting about the case, Stroock team member Robert Mantel, notes, “I remember us getting the facts and just thinking about how incredibly unfair it was — how there are these underlying issues of domestic violence, violence against women, and sex trafficking — and how it seemed like the courts didn’t really understand what had happened to [Christina]. The system didn’t seem to understand that she is a victim…”

The Case

The pro bono Stroock team, consisting of Michele Jacobson, Alexandra Lyon, and Robert Mantel, worked diligently from August 2019 to June 2020 to help Christina save her home. They drafted and filed a letter motion to reopen the termination hearing when Christina won an appeal downgrading her sex offender designation from Level 2 to Level 1. The team then drafted and filed an Article 78 proceeding appealing the termination, which included a detailed Petition that extensively described the relevant facts and persuasively outlined their legal arguments., Ultimately, the team successfully negotiated a stipulation of settlement, pursuant to which Christina’s tenancy was reinstated. Throughout this complex process, Michele, Alexandra, and Robert kept Christina apprised of all relevant developments in her case and advised her in connection with appealing the termination and agreeing to the settlement. With the Stroock team’s help, Christina was able to fight back against NYCHA’s illegal attempt to evict her and ensure that she and her daughter can maintain safe and stable housing. Stroock attorney  shares,

“I did not expect how much help we would receive from those who heard Christina’s story and wanted to offer their experience and expertise. With these resources and Sanctuary’s expertise in anti-trafficking cases, she was able to keep her apartment.” — Alexandra Lyon, Associate.

Going Above & Beyond

The Stroock pro bono team did remarkable work in prosecuting this complicated, novel appeal. All team members were particularly trauma-informed with respect to the unique challenges Christina faces as a sex trafficking survivor, as someone who has struggled with drug addiction, and as someone who was required to register as a sex offender even though she herself was a victim. The team showed exceptional professionalism and compassion in handling this case and was able to achieve an outstanding victory for Christina.

“Working on [Christina’s] case made me realize that, while society has recognized that victims of sex trafficking are, in fact, victims, the criminal justice system and, unfortunately, government, have not supported these victims as they should.” — Michele Jacobson, Partner.

Expressing her gratitude for the Stroock team’s work, Sanctuary Supervising Attorney Dana Kaufman shares, “I have seen first-hand how having a pro bono team step in on a complex housing litigation can mean the world to a client, knowing she has the backing of an incredibly competent and compassionate team to help her fight against her landlord to maintain safe and stable housing for herself and her children.”

Christina is incredibly grateful for the excellent legal advocacy performed on her behalf by the Stroock team. Thanks to the Stroock team’s efforts, she and her daughter can finally live in peace in their home, without fear of being evicted and rendered homeless.

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Michele, Alexandra, and Robert. 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.

WilmerHale Attorneys Help Trafficking Survivor Secure T-Visa

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from WilmerHale for their compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of “Julina,” helping her to obtain her T-Visa. 

Victoria O. Abraham is an associate in the Mergers & Acquisitions group at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York, a Co-Chair of the Above & Beyond Committee and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council. 

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At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP for their compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of “Julina,” helping her to obtain her T-Visa.  The team consisted of partner Dan Schubert and attorneys Jenny Pelaez, Sara Maldonado, Olga Kamensky, and Ken Brady.  Former WilmerHale partner Sharon Cohen Levin worked extensively on this matter, as did former WilmerHale attorneys Lisabeth Mendola-D’Andrea, Marguerite Colson, Sarah Mortazavi, and Carrie Montgomery.  Senior paralegals Lauren Kennedy and Joseph Ciraco also provided invaluable assistance.

In 2016, when she had just turned 18 years old, Julina went to a party where her future trafficker drugged her, kidnapped her, and then sex trafficked her out of a hotel room in New York. Julina managed to escape from him when he left her alone in the hotel room. She ran to another hotel down the street where she used a stranger’s cell phone to call the police. Despite going through this extremely traumatic and challenging trafficking experience, Julina was able to be a key witness in the case against her trafficker. Julina, with the help of her WilmerHale attorneys, Lisabeth Mendola-D’Andrea*, Sharon Cohen Levin*, Sarah Mortazavi*, and Jenny Pelaez participated in a series of interviews with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and was instrumental in helping them bring charges against her trafficker. He ended up pleading guilty and was sentenced in 2019.

After the successful resolution of her trafficking case, the team of current and former WilmerHale attorneys, consisting of Dan Schubert, Sharon Cohen Levin*, Lisabeth Mendola-D’Andrea*, Sara Maldonado, Ken Brady, Olga Kamensky, Jenny Pelaez, Marguerite Colson*, and Carrie Montgomery*, took Julina on as an immigration client to help her with her T-Visa application. Julina had come to the U.S. from Mexico, undocumented, when she was just two years old.  Julina’s T-Visa case was not straightforward and required the team to put together a supplemental application in response to the government’s Request for Evidence (“RFE”).

“What stood out to me about this case was that their representation of the client was really multi-faceted. They took on so many different kinds of representation – witness cooperation, obtaining Continued Presence and applying for and obtaining T nonimmigrant status,” said Jessica-Wind Abolafia, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary for Families. “It was legally complex – during the pendency of the T application, the government issued an RFE dealing with the intersection of immigration and criminal law. It was a particularly challenging RFE given the policies of the current administration. The team skillfully drafted a compelling response that was ultimately successful.”

“Sometimes the systems that are put in place to help people who have been trafficked may make help out of reach. It is unimaginable from our point of view how someone could fill out this application on their own,” Sara said. “We had initially been frustrated when we received an RFE asking her to explain why she should be admitted after having engaged in prostitution.  But we were able to explain the nexus to the trafficking component of her story and that she had not engaged in prostitution on a voluntary basis, and we were glad to see that they understood and credited Julina’s story.”

The COVID-19 pandemic presented additional logistical challenges for the team in terms of managing the process, navigating the court system and obtaining the necessary records. With all these challenges, the team was still able to approach the case in a holistic way that was supportive of Julina and respectful of her healing process.

“The way the team was there for her on an emotional level was so key and so crucial. Their compassionate approach led to the client being able to get through a really challenging time in a way that was manageable and respectful of her limits. They really struck the right balance.” — Jessica-Wind Abolafia, SFF Anti-Trafficking Initiative Director.

“She helped me to figure out different ways to interact with clients and how to respect where she is as a person. This has been a learning and growing experience for me. I was working with someone who experienced trauma that I could not even imagine,” said Sara.

The government granted Julina’s T-Visa in June 2020, and since then Julina has been focused on rebuilding her life with her two young children and her partner.

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Dan, Sharon, Lisabeth, Sara, Ken, Olga, Marguerite, Sarah, Carrie, Jenny, Lauren, and Joseph. 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.

Cahill Attorneys Advocate on Behalf of Domestic Violence Survivor and Her Daughter

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP for their compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of “Alison” to obtain an order of protection and a judgment of divorce.

Silvia Marroquin is an associate in the international arbitration practice of Chaffetz Lindsey in New York and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP for their compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of “Alison” to obtain an order of protection and a judgment of divorce.  The team consisted of associates Tobin Raju, Andrea Abarca, and George Harris.

In November 2018, Alison—a full-time health worker and mother of two—sought an order of protection against her then-husband from whom she had separated.  For over five years, Alison endured verbal, emotional, and physical abuse towards herself and her young daughter.  Her strength and warm-hearted personality never dimmed.  But, the continuous stalking, messaging, and verbal threats from her abuser that followed her separation, frightened and upset Alison and eventually led her to pursue legal action.

In December 2018, the team from Cahill, consisting of Tobin Raju, Andrea Abarca and George Harris, took on Alison’s representation and successfully secured a final one-year order of protection on consent for Alison and her young daughter, who had been a witness to repeated physical and verbal abuse by Alison’s then-husband.

The entire team showed an unparalleled commitment to the case and were always available to Alison.  Their desire to develop a supportive and sincere relationship with Alison bore fruit, as she became more comfortable talking about difficult issues which allowed the team to develop a deeper knowledge of her case.  Throughout their representation of Alison, the team met with Alison, and diligently collected and organized the numerous police reports, screenshots, photographs, and other potential evidence to be used at trial.  The team’s precision and care in preparing Alison alleviated her anxiety about the trial. Moments before trial, opposing counsel initiated settlement discussions.  The team’s hard work paid off and culminated in their successful advocacy during settlement negotiations and the hearing, eventually obtaining a satisfactory outcome for Alison.  In fact, the court referee was at first reluctant to include Alison’s daughter in the order of protection, because she is not the abuser’s child, but Tobin’s advocacy convinced the court referee that it was appropriate and necessary.

Not surprisingly, in June 2019, the team immediately volunteered to represent Alison in her divorce, and successfully obtained a final uncontested judgment of divorce from the abuser in November 2019.

Tobin and the team were some of the most responsive and communicative pro bono attorneys I have worked with. Tobin proactively reached out to the client on a regular basis, sending me updates on the case, as well as other issues arising in the client’s life. Tobin and the team were totally eager and happy to help the client with the uncontested divorce as well, which the client was thrilled to receive,” said Sanctuary Senior Staff Attorney Lindsey M. Song.

“When I asked the client for feedback for Tobin and the team, she said, ‘I could not have asked for any better [team]! You helped me through this time from beginning to finish. I am grateful to you all.’”  — Lindsey Song.

Despite facing so many challenges, Alison’s unflappable strength was truly impressive and key to the outcome of the case.  Tobin said, “We could not have asked for a better client to work with. She is an incredibly courageous person, and I was honored to work with her.”  The relationship is such that months after the case was resolved, Alison and the team continue to be in touch.

Reflecting on their work, the team expressed that they were especially grateful for having the opportunity to work with Lindsey M. Song, Senior Staff Attorney at Sanctuary for Families, and to have been put in the position to advocate on Alison’s behalf.

It was important to have someone with Lindsey’s experience with survivors–not only in terms of strategy but also to understand the nuances of how trauma can affect memory and how we, as attorneys, should ask questions to help our client remember the details that make her case. All this, while navigating the client-relationship to be both effective and compassionate,” said Andrea Abarca.

Lindsey gave us enough autonomy while walking us through every requirement and working with us on the best strategy for the case.  She trusted our instincts and our abilities.” — Tobin Raju.

It was extremely helpful to be able to have guidance from someone that would speak to the nature of how the court would react and that helped us prepare Alison to be ready for a tough referee,” said George Harris.

 The team described this as a unique experience that was extremely rewarding, personally and professionally, because it allowed them to grow as attorneys by developing essential skills and taking on more responsibilities while supporting a client moving on with her life and family.

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Tobin, Andrea, and George. 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.