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.

NY Must Do More for People in Prostitution, but Full Decriminalization Is Not The Answer

Our statement regarding the recently-introduced bill aimed at fully decriminalizing the sex industry in New York.

As service providers, advocates, and survivor leaders, we believe that people bought and sold in the sex trade should not be arrested, prosecuted, or criminalized. Though Senator Salazar’s and Assembly Member Gottfried’s bill (S.6419/A.8230) does decriminalize prostitution for victims of the sex trade, it also decriminalizes the most heinous and exploitative elements of this industry: sex buying and pimping. For this reason, Sanctuary for Families strongly opposes this bill. We urge legislators and advocates to dig deeper before supporting legislation that will promote pimping, sex buying, and the expansion of the sex industry.

Prostitution causes severe long term psychological and physical harm. An estimated 90% of people in prostitution in the United States are trafficked. Decriminalizing the system of prostitution would, in effect, sanction human trafficking because it would decriminalize all components of the sex trade. It would render illegal businesses, currently run by organized crime, legal. Brothel and illicit massage parlor owners would be deemed bonafide business owners or managers, and the profits they make off the sale of the bodies of women, children, the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups would be legitimized.

We are better than this. We must ensure victims are protected, but cannot do so while extending the same protections to sex traffickers. Unfortunately, this bill does not take this nuanced approach, and it, therefore, should not become law in New York.

Warmly,

Hon. Judy H. Kluger
Executive Director, Sanctuary for Families

Gloria Steinem and Advocates Applaud NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson for His Commitment to Criminal Justice Reform

Our joint statement on Speaker Johnson’s Call for the Equality Model

Speaker Johnson’s Call for the Equality Model is the right step to protect and promote the well-being of those who are sex trafficked and individuals in the sex trade while holding accountable those who harm them.

As leading direct service providers, women’s rights, anti-trafficking and youth activists, immigrant, gender and racial justice advocates, child welfare advocates, and sex trade survivors, we applaud City Council Speaker Corey Johnson for his leadership in calling for meaningful criminal justice reform in New York City.

In particular, we commend the Speaker’s support for the repeal of the “loitering for purposes of engaging in prostitution” offense, which permits law enforcement to make often arbitrary arrests based on untenable suspicions of prostitution. These arrests have been used as a discriminatory tactic and reports show that the law’s usage disproportionately targets women and girls of color as well as transwomen and girls.

Speaker Johnson also declared his support for the Equality Model (also known as the Nordic Model) and called for urgent action in addressing prostitution and sex trafficking. This legal framework solely decriminalizes people in prostitution while only targeting those who harm them, including pimps and sex buyers.

Key to the Equality Model is its directive to create and implement comprehensive services, including trauma-informed medical and mental health services, housing, education, and job training, for all people in prostitution. Speaker Johnson’s announcement concerning his commitment to opening a center that will provide wrap-around services to individuals in the sex trade is an important step in the right direction.

New York City prides itself in being at the forefront of protecting human rights, especially those of the most marginalized populations among us. The overwhelming majority of those in prostitution are marginalized women, girls, transwomen and girls, especially of color. In our city, most of these individuals are New Yorkers; others are undocumented immigrants who have likely been sex trafficked. Many of us are part of and all of us work with these communities.

The Equality Model’s goal is to promote and protect the economic security, health and social equality of the most disenfranchised women and transwomen while safeguarding them from violence and discrimination. In tandem with providing comprehensive services, the City must also invest in education and training, and commit to changes in policy and practice to eradicate discrimination and mistreatment by law enforcement and the judicial system. Already, due to grassroots efforts, we’ve seen improvements. Through training and engagement with law enforcement, arrests of pimps and traffickers have slowly increased since 2016 when the NYPD committed to targeting “pimps and johns” and investing in long-term investigations, while arrests of individuals selling sex have steadily decreased each year.

The sex trade is where sex trafficking happens. Every dollar that feeds the multi-billion dollar sex trade comes from sex buyers who treat people in the sex trade like commodities and cause immense, long-term harm. The Speaker courageously recognized that the sex trade is inherently antithetical to equality for all and affirmed that we have the power to fight it.

The Equality Model must be part of New York’s toolkit of laws and policies to reform the criminal justice system and promote gender, racial, economic and immigration justice.

Gloria Steinem

Coalition Against Trafficking in Women

Covenant House

ECPAT-USA

Equality Now

Graham Windham

Mentari

National Organization for Women – New York City

New York Alliance Against the Legalization of Prostitution

New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition

Not On My Watch

Sanctuary for Families

The Truth About Human Trafficking & the Wall

President Trump has made many misleading and uninformed claims as he advocates for a wall at the southern border. We thought you should know the truth about modern-day slavery.

Watch on CNN: Lori Cohen, Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative, respond to President Trump’s statements: https://cnn.it/2TjrAZp 


Over the past weeks, President Trump has repeatedly brought up human trafficking as he argues in favor of building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. The majority of his statements on the subject, however, have been either misleading or unfounded.

At Sanctuary for Families, we know from our clients’ experiences and from fellow anti-trafficking experts across the country that the reality of modern-day slavery is different from that described by the President. For this reason, we’re debunking five of the President’s most frequent claims about human trafficking:

1. Trump’s Claim: Human trafficking cannot be stopped without a steel barrier or concrete wall.

Many women and children attempting to cross the border are fleeing sexual violence and trafficking in their own countries, and seeking asylum in the U.S. — Shutting them out of our country makes them more vulnerable to exploitation.


2. Building a wall at the border will keep traffickers out of the United States.

Many U.S. citizens are involved in the sex trade and traffickers entering the U.S. through the southern border often do so lawfully.


3. Stricter immigration policies and tighter border security will stop human trafficking.

In the U.S., immigrants — particularly those who are undocumented — are at a much higher risk of exploitation than nonimmigrants.

By criminalizing immigrant communities, President Trump’s policies are pushing trafficking survivors deeper into the shadows and limiting law enforcement’s ability to investigate trafficking-related crimes.


4. Undocumented immigrants are criminals and bring violence to our communities.

Studies have shown that undocumented immigrants are considerably less likely to commit crimes compared to U.S.-born citizens.

In reality, most undocumented people crossing the southern border are fleeing horrific violence, including gender violence and sex trafficking, in their home countries.


5. Trafficking victims are immigrants from other countries who have been brought here unlawfully.

A very large number of victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation in this country are U.S. citizens and never cross any borders at all.


Building the wall will not stop human trafficking. If President Trump really wanted to protect trafficking victims, he would listen to experts, push for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and increase the number of available T visas.