Davis Polk Team Changes Lives of U-Visa Applicants with Impact Litigation

Alex is an associate with Pollack Solomon Duffy LLP and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP has been a pro bono partner of Sanctuary for Families for more than 25 years, assisting Sanctuary on a variety of matters.  When Sanctuary asked for help pursuing precedent-setting impact litigation on behalf of crime victims facing excessively long processing times when petitioning for U-nonimmigrant status (also known as “U-visa applications”), Davis Polk stepped up again. 

U-visa applicants forced to wait 2 years for employment eligibility

The Davis Polk team, led by associate Scott Wilcox, with Special Counsel for Pro Bono Sharon Katz, and associates Caroline Stern and Surya Gopalan, represented a group of Sanctuary clients with pending U-visa applications. Over the past 10 years, Sanctuary and its pro bono partners (including Davis Polk) have filed hundreds of U-visa applications on behalf of some of Sanctuary’s most impoverished and marginalized clients.

U-visa applicants now typically face processing times by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of approximately two years.  During that time, applicants are often not granted Employment Authorization Documents (EADs).  Without EADs, it is difficult for victims (many of whom are survivors of domestic violence) to support their families and rebuild their lives free of abuse.  Facing a 22+ month processing time before they are eligible to receive EADs, clients remain in fear of removal and vulnerable to homelessness, ongoing abuse, and poverty.  Sanctuary reached out to Davis Polk to help these clients obtain EADs while their U-visa applications were pending. 

Davis Polk team gets to work

The Davis Polk team quickly got to work. The team conducted extensive legal research and developed a litigation strategy to maximize the likelihood of a positive outcome for the clients. The Davis Polk team prepared a federal complaint and motion papers, engaged in extensive settlement negotiations with the United States Attorney’s Office (which represented the various government agencies involved), and ultimately reached a favorable resolution for all of the plaintiffs.

Thanks to the team’s efforts, the clients, who had been forced to live in fear while USCIS held their applications in abeyance, have received considerable protection, solace, and comfort. Many of the plaintiffs already have obtained full-time employment and are now able to support their families in the United States.  For Surya, working on the case was a stark reminder of the importance of being part of a community that is compassionate and provides support where it’s most needed—in this case, to crime victims struggling for the basic right to work and support themselves and their families.

Reflecting on a successful outcome

Scott, who also serves on Sanctuary’s Legal Advisory Council, is thankful for the continued opportunity to collaborate with Sanctuary, noting that Sanctuary’s “team of professionals has proven time and time again that they’re amazing to work with, and this experience was no exception.”  Carolien Hardenbol, Co-Director of the Immigration Intervention Project at Sanctuary for Families, praised the Davis Polk team:

“They left no stone unturned in preparing the strongest possible case for our clients.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Davis Polk’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.