Latham & Watkins Attorneys Obtain Unconditional Permanent Residency for Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a dedicated team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins LLP for their culturally sensitive and compassionate pro bono representation of  “Anam”, a survivor whom they helped to obtain unconditional permanent residency in the United States.

Amy Abramson is a former Sanctuary staff member and current Senior Development Director at AJC. She is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a dedicated team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins LLP for their culturally sensitive and compassionate pro bono representation of  “Anam”, a survivor whom they helped to obtain unconditional permanent residency in the United States.

Anam was an independent young woman living in Pakistan. Shortly after graduating from college, her parents arranged her marriage to a local young man who was the son of a family friend. The couple moved to the United States and Anam, full of dreams, started making plans to build a family and continue her education. Very soon though, she discovered that her husband had different plans.

Anam’s husband forced her to stay in the house, forbade her to call her family and friends, and perpetrated incredible physical violence against her. After seeking help for her injuries due to his abuse, the local District Attorney opened a criminal investigation. Anam found shelter at the home of local distant relatives, but her husband tracked her down and blackmailed her into returning to his house by threatening her widowed, elderly mother living alone in Pakistan.

With local police making regular visits due to the DA’s open case, her husband’s family recognized that Anam could not stay in the U.S. They kidnapped her, made her travel back to Pakistan, and kept her locked up in a relative’s compound under around-the-clock surveillance. Months later, Anam escaped, and with the help of the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, she returned to New York City.

The Latham & Watkins pro bono team consisting of Loren N. Finegold, Irina Y. Sivachenko, Sohom Datta, Omar R. Jooma, Abhinaya Swaminathan, and Danielle E. Sekerak showed great compassion and support for Anam from their first meeting together. Due to the deep trauma she had endured, Anam found it hard to trust others with her story and found that certain cultural aspects of her experience were difficult for her to talk about with a mixed-gender team. Because of this, Sohom thoughtfully stepped out of the room during their early meetings, ensuring a female-only environment, and the team spoke with her in her native Urdu as necessary to make Anam more comfortable.

The Latham & Watkins team worked on the case for nearly three years, from June 2017 until they received the decision in May 2020. In that time, they researched cultural matrimonial practices in Pakistan to produce a detailed memorandum, compiled the petition, and included a supporting affidavit from an interview conducted in Urdu with a Pakistani contact. Anam was anxious at points throughout the case that her husband would try to interfere, even physically, to prevent her from achieving legal status. The pro bono team continuously monitored Anam’s well-being and assisted whenever she felt she was being followed or at risk of another kidnapping.

Anam’s resilience is astounding. While the Latham & Watkins team was working on her case, she completed another degree at a local community college and is now gainfully employed as an IT professional. Seeing Anam’s determination over the years, from the day she walked in the door as an intelligent, educated, yet deeply traumatized young woman to seeing her grow, make friends, build a life and further her education was incredible for the Latham & Watkins team. The team is deeply proud of this case and continues working with Anam on her citizenship application.

On the pro bono team, Anam says:

“I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to you for all the care and concern you have shown me, and for working tirelessly to ensure that the immigration law worked in our favor… I feel lucky to work with Latham & Watkins LLP, each and every person I work with.” — Anam.

This case was a true partnership between Sanctuary for Families and the Latham & Watkins team.

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Loren, Irina, Sohom, Omar, Abhinaya, and Danielle. 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.

Virtual Courtroom Advocates Project: Helping Survivors Get Orders of Protection During COVID-19

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a group of dedicated volunteer attorneys, summer associates, and paralegals who provided virtual pro se assistance to survivors of domestic violence seeking orders of protection during COVID-19.

Tushna is Of Counsel at Morrison & Foerster LLP and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

One of the unfortunate and dangerous effects of the Coronavirus pandemic has been that the frequency and intensity of domestic violence has escalated during this challenging time. With Family Courts physically closed and operating at reduced capacity as a result of the Covid-19 health crisis, those experiencing domestic violence were not able to receive in-person pro se assistance in preparing and filing family offense petitions against their abuser in order to obtain orders of protection for themselves and their children.

To address this serious gap in services, Sanctuary for Families worked quickly to create a new pro bono project called the Virtual Courtroom Advocates Project (or VCAP), which provided virtual pro se assistance to survivors of domestic violence seeking orders of protection from abuse and violence.  A group of six firms promptly agreed to staff the VCAP program and a group of dedicated volunteer attorneys, summer associates and paralegals from Cahill, Gordon & Reindel LLP, Davis, Polk & Wardwell LLP, Paul Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, Simpson Thacher & Barlett LLP, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and Schulte, Roth &  Zabel LLP made a huge commitment to help these brave survivors. Volunteers from each of these firms immediately began staffing the VCAP program five days a week starting in April 2020. By the time VCAP ended on September 1, 2020, VCAP volunteers had drafted nearly 200 family offense petitions on behalf of victims of domestic violence seeking orders of protection.  Nearly 180 of those petitions were filed with the court, with almost all of the petitioners being granted an order of protection and other requested relief.

Each of the volunteers focused their time, energy, and efforts to help their clients prepare and file their petitions and to serve the Temporary Order of Protection on the respondent. VCAP attorneys were tenacious and skilled in their quest to help the clients obtain full stay away Temporary Orders of Protection. In addition, they were able to achieve hard to obtain additional relief to meet the needs of survivors of domestic violence, such as stay away orders for petitioner’s children and pets, child support orders, and orders preventing the electronic dissemination of intimate images and videos of the petitioner.

Each pro bono attorney was compassionate and patient in assisting these courageous survivors to get protection from their abusers and offered empathetic and trauma-informed support, empowering petitioners to find their own path to safety and justice. For example, one pro bono attorney worked for over a week with a petitioner who was afraid to file her family offense petition, patiently supporting the client and empowering the client to make her own decision regarding whether to file the petition. Ultimately, the client decided to move forward with filing the petition and obtained the protection she needed.

As a long-standing member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and Sanctuary supporter, I am deeply grateful to each of the caring pro bono attorneys, summer associates, and paralegals for their fierce advocacy combined with kindness and deep empathy, and the law firms that supported and facilitated their work. I am also thankful to the Sanctuary for Families staff attorneys who were instrumental in swiftly setting up this innovative program that met the urgent needs of the moment.  And, as always, I am also grateful for, and constantly inspired by, the courage and strength of the clients who stepped forward to protect themselves and their families from violence and abuse in the midst of a global health crisis.

In the words of VCAP volunteer attorney Amy Barton of Paul Weiss,

“Although my clients repeatedly expressed their appreciation to me for my assistance, in the end, they were the ones who deserved my thanks for inspiring me with their strength to find help when needed and allowing me the opportunity to try to make someone’s life a little safer in a world that seemed to be turning upside down for all of us.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the VCAP volunteers’ outstanding pro bono work. 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.

S&C Attorneys Help Trafficking Survivors Adjust Status, Obtain T-Visa

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP for their astute and flexible representation of “Soojin” and “Miyoung” in their applications for adjustment of status and a T-non-immigrant visa, respectively.

Colleen is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.  She is a Vice President and Senior Counsel at Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP for their astute and flexible representation of “Soojin” and “Miyoung” in their applications for adjustment of status and a T-non-immigrant visa, respectively. The team assisting Soojin consisted of partner Garrard Beeney, attorneys Connor “CJ” Haynes and Suniti Mehta, and legal assistant Emma Needham.  Garrard Beeney also assisted in Miyoung’s case, along with attorneys Olivia Chalos and David Seidler.

Soojin and Miyoung, two unrelated women who survived sex trafficking through massage parlors in both Korea and the United States, have each spent years working to overcome the trauma they endured.  Both women had paid the same immigration attorney in another state to assist them with their immigration petitions, but when they found their way to Sanctuary for Families, those applications had been in limbo for several years.  Soojin had filed a petition to adjust her status to receive lawful permanent residency after procuring a T-nonimmigrant visa (“T visa”) several years prior.  Miyoung had been waiting for her T visa for nearly five years, despite the successful prosecution of several of her traffickers.

When Sanctuary for Families attorneys Amy Hsieh and Kathy Lu began working with Soojin and Miyoung, they made several attempts to get the attention of USCIS and to find out the status of the cases, but to no avail. They realized that the best course of action to force a decision would be a rare and risky tactic: filing a mandamus action against the federal government to compel action in Soojin’s and Miyoung’s cases. And they knew that they would need a sophisticated team of pro bono attorneys to help.

In July of 2019, the Sullivan and Cromwell team took the cases, and Garrard, CJ, Suniti, Oliva, David, and Emma began preparing the mandamus actions.  After conducting extensive research into the novel issues presented, and considering the risks of increased negative scrutiny on the clients’ petitions as the result of a lawsuit against the government, the team drafted complaints.  In relatively short order the team filed the mandamus suit in Miyoung’s case in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.  Shortly thereafter, they were contacted by the Assistant U. S. Attorney who had been assigned the case.  The AUSA asked for more time to respond, with the implication that the suit may have prompted the government to take action on the underlying petition that would moot the mandamus case.  In January 2020, Miyoung received a Request for Evidence (“RFE”) relating to her T-visa petition.

In the meantime, Soojin had received an RFE, as well, likely on the back of a new, corrected adjustment-of-status petition Sanctuary had filed after withdrawing the prior version.  In light of the new territory both clients found themselves in, the Sullivan and Cromwell team did not miss a beat before shifting their attention to the RFEs.  While the mandamus actions were largely complicated questions of law that required extensive legal research, the RFE responses were incredibly fact-specific, especially when it came to detailing in a clear and accurate way the complicated criminal histories of both Soojin and Miyoung, which often present challenges for survivors of trafficking.

Further compounding the issue was the fact that the country was in the beginning stages of a pandemic.  In-person meetings between the clients and their lawyers would not be possible. “These circumstances make pro bono cases especially difficult when you can’t see your clients in person and develop that connection with them,” reflected Suniti.  

But as Kathy notes about the Sullivan and Cromwell team, “The speed with which Garrard, CJ, Suniti, Olivia, David, and Emma pivoted was remarkable.  They did not hesitate to roll up their sleeves to work on the RFE right after they had put countless hours into the mandamus complaints, all while managing the challenging new logistics of handling immigration cases during a pandemic.  We could not have done this work without them.”

For their part, the Sullivan and Cromwell team remained focused on serving Soojin and Miyoung with the best quality legal counsel, and they found their close partnership with Amy and Kathy to be incredibly effective.  Bolstered by their clients’ resilience and this new shot at overcoming the legal barriers that had been in Soojin and Miyoung’s way for too long, the Sullivan and Cromwell and Sanctuary for Families teams completed the RFEs together and submitted them timely.

Within a matter of weeks, Miyoung received approval of her T-visa petition, which granted her access to much-needed work-authorization, as well as a derivative visa for her husband, and Soojin received approval of her adjustment of status petition and is now a lawful permanent resident of the United States.  Given the extensive length of time both clients waited, and the significant legal hurdles they had to overcome, they were prepared for the worst.  Receiving approval of their respective petitions so soon after the Sullivan and Cromwell team started working on them was a tremendous relief.

Reflecting on the case, Olivia noted how clear it was to her from the start that Miyoung undoubtedly had overcome horrible experiences and had met the legal requirements for a T visa, especially since her traffickers had already been prosecuted.

“I was grateful to work on this case, but it is challenging to know that there are so many people without lawyers who find themselves in similar situations, facing these procedural hurdles.” — Olivia Chalos, Associate.

Suniti expressed her deep admiration for Soojin, who had lived in a state of uncertainty for so long and had survived years of trauma as the result of the trafficking, only to become stuck for years in an immigration system that she thought her prior attorney was working to help her navigate.  The Sullivan and Cromwell team, cognizant of Soojin’s experiences, worked hard to gain her trust and to be the advocates she deserved.  As Suniti put it, “having counsel can actually help you.”

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Garrard, Suniti, C.J. Emma, Olivia, and David. 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.

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.