Carolin Guentert is a clinical teaching fellow in the Domestic Violence Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center. She is also a member of 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 Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of “Anna,” a labor trafficking survivor from Guatemala. Anna endured significant abuse at the hands of her trafficker: he held Anna captive in his home for nearly a year, raped her repeatedly, and forced her to turn her wages over to him. She finally escaped with the help of a restaurant co-worker, “Miguel,” whom she later married.
The Freshfields team included counsel Anahita Thoms (formerly of), senior associates Lupe López and Mia White (formerly of), associates Kathy Ibarra and Christopher Stucko (formerly of),and paralegal Whitney Hoyos (formerly of). The team represented Anna and Miguel in their applications to obtain T-visas. After they were approved for T-visa status, the trafficker found and confronted Anna and her husband. The Freshfields team remained dedicated to keeping Anna and Miguel safe and helped ensure a conviction against the trafficker.
Anna was a single mother in Guatemala and struggling economically. When a man from her village offered her a job in a restaurant in the United States, Anna agreed to move to support her family. Unfortunately the man turned out to be a trafficker, who subjected Anna to extreme abuse.
After Anna’s grueling 40-day journey to the United States, her trafficker immediately took her captive. He locked her in his house for almost a year, forcing her to do cooking and housework for him with no pay. He repeatedly raped Anna and monitored her every move.
Anna’s trafficker told her that she owed him money for the cost of being brought to the United States, and that she could pay off her debt by working in a restaurant. She had to turn over all of her wages to him and was charged significant interest.
Escape and T-Visa Application
After nearly a year of living in fear and isolation, Anna confided in her co-worker, Miguel, who was a cook at the restaurant. Miguel ended up helping Anna escape, and let her stay in his home. After surviving this experience, Anna and Miguel eventually fell in love and had a baby together. They got married at a ceremony held in Sanctuary’s office, officiated by Sanctuary’s Executive Director Judge Judy Harris Kluger.
Lori Cohen, Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative, referred Anna’s case to Freshfields, who quickly put together applications for T-visa status for Anna and Miguel. With the dedicated help from the Freshfields team, Anna and Miguel were approved for T-visa status in 2017.
Freshfields was also able to obtain T-visa status for Anna’s children, and is currently working to bring the children to the United States. Kathy Ibarra, an associate on the Freshfields team, recalls,
“Anna’s case was my first pro bono matter when I joined Freshfields, and it’s been great representing her ever since and forming a relationship with her.”
Confronted by Her Abuser
While Anna’s application for T-visa status was still pending, her trafficker found her and began harassing her and Miguel. But whenever Anna and Miguel tried to get help from law enforcement, they were met with resistance, likely because law enforcement was unfamiliar with labor trafficking.
The Freshfields team helped Anna and Miguel file complaints against Anna’s trafficker, accompanied them to multiple hearings, and advocated to the judge and prosecutor. The trafficker was eventually convicted of harassment, which, Kathy recalls, “empowered the client. It was important to her to be in court, to see that justice was brought against her trafficker.” Says Lori Cohen,
“Freshfields did a great deal to educate the judge and the prosecutor on the issue of labor trafficking, and created a safety net for this client.”
Reflecting on her experience, Kathy explained,
“Both Lupe and I are children of immigrants. It’s been so important to us to help other immigrants navigate the legal system, especially in light of the current immigration crisis in this country.”
Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor Freshfields’ outstanding pro bono work. You can buy tickets here.
If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Families’ work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.