Holland & Knight Team Helps Trafficking Survivor Vacate her Criminal Conviction

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Holland & Knight LLP for their compassionate and devoted pro bono assistance on behalf of  “Melanie,” an immigrant survivor of human trafficking.

Todd Schmid is Senior Legal Counsel at HSBC and Co-Head of HSBC’s U.S. Pro Bono Program. He is 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 Holland & Knight LLP for their compassionate and devoted pro bono assistance on behalf of  “Melanie,” an immigrant survivor of human trafficking. The team included Rob Bernstein, partner, Holland & Knight LLP; Ellen Marcus, attorney, Holland & Knight LLP; Sheila Hayre, consultant and professor of law at Quinnipiac University; and Krishna Patel, consultant. 

While states have advanced laws to punish and deter human traffickers, shortfalls in the criminal justice system remain. Too often, survivors find themselves burdened by criminal convictions with domino effects on their ability to rebuild their lives, even after escaping their traffickers. For non-citizen survivors, convictions adversely affect their immigration status (or ability to obtain relief) and can subject them to deportation risk. Survivors with a criminal record are often unable to secure meaningful employment, education, or housing, overwhelming their ability to move forward and build lives free from exploitation.

Sanctuary’s client Melanie, a Taiwanese trafficking survivor who was arrested in Connecticut for prostitution while being trafficked, was determined to vacate her conviction. “Melanie bravely took the initiative to cooperate with law enforcement to investigate her traffickers,” noted Amy Hsieh, Deputy Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative. “She then successfully obtained a T nonimmigrant status.” Yet as Ms. Hsieh pointed out, Melanie still faced barriers resulting from her trafficking – a basic internet search for Melanie’s name still yielded conviction results, and only successful vacatur could clear her public record.

Holland & Knight’s Ellen Marcus and Rob Bernstein began working closely with Melanie in the fall of 2017 to request vacatur from the Connecticut court of a conviction tied to her trafficking. Despite its existence on the books, the vacatur statute had not yet been tested in the Connecticut courts, and there was no clear-cut procedure for placing this type of case on the state docket. When they brought Melanie’s well-researched case to the attention of the Connecticut Office of the State’s Attorney, the diligent work that Ellen and Rob put in paid off, and the state’s attorney, seeing its merits, took the case forward with the papers that the Holland & Knight team prepared, yielding a successful result for Sanctuary’s client. “Working on Melanie’s case highlighted how enormous this bureaucracy is and how difficult it is to navigate even for those with legal training,” noted Rob. Charting new territory required diligence, patience, and a thoughtful, collaborative approach.

In reflecting on their work, Rob and Ellen emphasized the lasting influence that pro bono work can have on clients. “This case underscores just how important it is for lawyers and law firms to do pro bono work,” said Rob. “Clients are not always going to find the right resources on their end. Many are dealing with threats to their health and safety and will never have the chance to dig themselves out. Lawyers are told to stay in their area, to not take risks.” Yet Ellen and Rob encourage fellow lawyers to roll up their sleeves and to be unafraid to act boldly on behalf of clients. “Even if it isn’t your primary area of expertise, with a bit of training, you can achieve rewarding results,” said Ellen. “Don’t hold back.”

Their story shines a light, too, on the power of collaboration. Ellen and Rob were keen to involve experts early on. To make Melanie’s case as strong as they could, they contacted Krishna Patel, a seasoned former federal prosecutor and an active member of numerous human trafficking task forces, and Sheila Hayre, professor of law at Quinnipiac University with expertise in immigration law and human trafficking, for their guidance and support. Seeing Melanie’s situation as a marquee example of the vacatur law’s true intent, both enthusiastically rose to the occasion. “There’s work to be done in training law enforcement that instead of thinking of someone as a ‘prostitute’ engaged in criminal activity, someone they find on the streets could be a trafficking victim,” Krishna observed. While the process of vacating a criminal conviction can itself be nuanced and sometimes contentious, the intrinsic link between Melanie’s victimization as a trafficking victim and the conviction for prostitution made her case, in Krishna’s mind, an obvious one to take forward.

The pro bono team highlighted just how contagious Melanie’s collaborative spirit was. And Melanie was quick to shine a light on the effect their work will have as she continues to rebuild her life:

“Each of you made it a reality. I sincerely thank each of them for helping vulnerable people like myself. Because of the team, I will live a good life, and one day hope to pass on the love, kindness, and compassion that they have shown me.” — Melanie.

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Ellen, Rob, Krishna, and Sheila. 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.

Herbert Smith Freehills Team Helps Domestic Violence Survivor Secure Order of Support

Christina Pryor is an associate in the Government Enforcement and White Collar Crime group in

Christina Pryor is an associate in the Government Enforcement and White Collar Crime group in the New York office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

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At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a pro bono team from Herbert Smith Freehills’ New York office consisting of Partner Thomas Riley and Associates Pamela Terry and Christopher Boyd.

“It has been a wonderful experience for Herbert Smith Freehills to partner with Sanctuary on multiple projects over the years. Being able to help Sanctuary’s clients in meaningful ways is an honor, and it is inspiring to see our lawyers fully devote themselves to these cases to achieve positive and impactful outcomes.” –Tom Riley

In May 2018, this team from Herbert Smith Freehills took on the representation of Sanctuary client Stephanie Lee (“Ms. Lee”) in related child support and child support violation proceedings against the abusive father of her two children. Ms. Lee had filed for child support in September 2017, and filed a violation in April 2018 because the abuser had outright refused to pay the Temporary Order of Support awarded by the court. The abuser had claimed he was not working, so it was an uphill battle to prove that he was in fact employed and expending money on frivolous and expensive purchases rather than paying child support.

Pam immediately dove in, compiling copious documents and records in order to assist with the client’s cases and serving upwards of 35 subpoenas to seek access to Ms. Lee’s abuser’s finances to demonstrate his ability to pay. When opposing counsel finally provided documentary evidence, Pam drafted a persuasive and thorough brief explaining the reasons in favor of granting a child support order. Her dedicated and powerful advocacy ultimately resulted in an incredibly favorable $5,000 per month child and spousal support order.

“Advocating for Ms. Lee and her children was an eye-opening, challenging, and rewarding experience.  I’m grateful for the experience and thrilled to know that I made a difference in an individual’s—in an entire family’s—life.”–Pam Terry

When Pam went on secondment in December 2018, Chris quickly jumped in. He assisted with enforcing the final child support order as well having a money judgment enforced against the abuser. Chris sat with the client and her children for an entire day at the Sheriff’s Office to ensure that the money judgment was properly docketed and would be executed.

“Working on this case alongside Sanctuary’s Lindsey Song was a real honor. I had a great experience, I learned a lot, and most importantly I am very proud to have played a part in achieving a positive outcome for the client and her family.” –Chris Boyd

Lindsey Song, Senior Staff Attorney at Sanctuary for Families, who worked together with the Herbert Smith Freehills team on Ms. Lee’s case, praised the team’s tireless work, stating:

“Pam did an incredible and thorough job throughout the case. If not for her dedicated and diligent efforts, the client would not have received the strong Order of Support that she did. Chris matched the same level of passionate advocacy for the client, organizing documents, writing briefing, and connecting with and supporting the client and her family. When I asked the client for feedback for Pam and Chris, she said, ‘I have no words to express how much you and they have done for me.'”

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 the HSF 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.

Paul Hastings and Goldman Sachs Come Together to Help Sanctuary’s Clients

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Paul Hastings LLP and The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. for their compassionate pro bono assistance on behalf of twelve Sanctuary clients and their families.

Tushna Gamadia is a member of Sanctuary for Families Pro Bono Council and an Of Counsel in the Real Estate Group at Morrison & Foerster LLP. She works on a number of family law and immigration cases pro bono, including for Sanctuary for Families clients who have inspired her with their courage, determination and hope.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Paul Hastings LLP and The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. for their compassionate pro bono assistance on behalf of twelve Sanctuary clients and their families. The team consisted of Susan Wade, Of Counsel at Paul Hastings; Justin Capozzi, Associate at Paul Hastings; Colleen M. O’Brien, Vice President and Associate General Counsel at Goldman Sachs; and Juan Castano, Legal Analyst at Goldman Sachs.  

A group of dedicated volunteers from Paul Hastings LLP and The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. teamed up in April 2019 at a clinic at Paul Hastings LLP to help 12 Sanctuary for Families’ clients and their family members adjust their status from U Nonimmigrant Status to permanent resident status before their U-visas expired.

This day was a significant milestone in our clients’ journeys toward a safe, secure and hopeful future. Each of them and their families had survived domestic violence and trauma and with great strength and courage came forward to cooperate with law enforcement to seek justice against their abusers. As a result of this cooperation, they had been granted U-Visa status by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), a status that allows survivors to live and work in the United States and makes them eligible for permanent resident status after four years.  The goal of this clinic was to help the clients complete and submit their permanent residency applications to USCIS before their U-visas expired in October 2019, thus allowing them and their families to continue to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis.  Securing permanent resident status also puts them on the path to one day obtaining U.S. citizenship.

The success of the clinic in helping so many clients so efficiently and skillfully would not have been possible without the extraordinary leadership of Susan Wade, Of Counsel at Paul Hastings; Justin Capozzi, Associate at Paul Hastings; Colleen M. O’Brien, Vice President and Associate General Counsel at Goldman Sachs; and Juan Castano, Legal Analyst at Goldman Sachs.

Susan, Justin, Colleen, and Juan recruited a large number of volunteers to represent clients, interpret for clients, and make sure the clinic day ran smoothly.  Colleen and Juan organized a training session at Goldman Sachs in advance of the clinic so that volunteers were prepared and knew what to expect, especially in terms of understanding the trauma their clients have experienced and had to relive during the process of obtaining their U-Visa.

After the training, Paul Hastings and Goldman Sachs volunteers formed teams and reviewed the clients’ files in advance of the meeting so that they were fully prepared to assist each client with completing the bulk of their application at the clinic.  Paul Hastings’ attorneys completed any necessary follow up and finalized the applications for submission to USCIS.

“Paul Hastings and Goldman Sachs really mobilized a tremendous amount of resources, pro bono attorneys and volunteers, conference rooms, and positive energy to make this happen,” said Sanctuary Immigration Intervention Project (IIP) attorney Anne-Cecile Raphael.

The Sanctuary IIP attorneys who assisted with the clinic were impressed and excited by the level of energy and enthusiasm from the volunteers, who refused to allow the current anti-immigrant climate to have a chilling effect on their clients’ ability to apply for immigration benefits.

“The level of professionalism and care they displayed really impressed us all. Susan, Justin, Colleen, and Juan really created a unique opportunity for Sanctuary clients to spend time together and interact with each other, as well as with the volunteers. Having the support of others who have gone through similar experiences as well as knowing that they each had a team of 3 or 4 committed and compassionate volunteers to help them submit their application for a green card really helped the clients feel comfortable and confident in taking this step forward,” said Raphael.

“Susan and Justin are incredibly knowledgeable, organized, and trauma-informed. Their commitment to Sanctuary’s immigration clients is inspiring, and we were so happy that they were leading the charge to ensure so many clients got help with applications that, given the current anti-immigration climate, were really causing our clients a lot of anxiety,” said Sanctuary Pro Bono Director Nicole Fidler.

The volunteers, like the clients, were a diverse group in terms of background, ages and experience levels, but they were all committed to helping their clients achieve an important step towards their American dream of safety, opportunity, dignity and a chance at happiness for their families. For many of the volunteers, assisting in the clinic felt close to home because they came from immigrant families. For others, it was a great introduction to pro bono work or a way to dedicate a finite amount of time from their hectic work schedules to make a big and significant impact in the life of a brave survivor. For others, it was an extension of their commitment to pro bono work, including years of on-going commitment to Sanctuary’s clients or an extension of their work on Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council. The diligent team work of these volunteers is an inspiration to other law firms and companies as a great way to come together to help make a positive impact in the lives of courageous and inspiring people and learn a great deal in return.

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 Paul Hastings’ and Goldman Sachs’ 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.

Cleary Gottlieb Team Secures T-Visa for Immigrant Survivor of Sex Trafficking

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Cleary Gottlieb for their compassionate and devoted pro bono assistance on behalf of their client “Alicia” in their successful application of a T nonimmigrant visa. The team consisted of Jennifer Kroman, Sharon Barbour, Jessica Dwinell, and Michael Athy-Plunkett. 

Todd Schmid is Legal Counsel at HSBC and Co-Head of HSBC’s U.S. Pro Bono Program. He is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Cleary Gottlieb for their compassionate and devoted pro bono assistance on behalf of their client “Alicia” in their successful application of a T nonimmigrant visa. The team consisted of Jennifer Kroman, Sharon Barbour, Jessica Dwinell, and Michael Athy-Plunkett. 

International youth often arrive in New York City hoping, above all, to progress, to find a way forward: a good school, a secure job, stability after leaving home behind. For “Alicia”, a transgender Sanctuary for Families client whose childhood in Colombia was marked with abuse, NYC embodied opportunity. Yet their initial hopes were stolen when, at age 12, they were sold into a Queens brothel and drugged by the brothel’s keepers so adult men could engage in commercial sex with them. Alicia eventually escaped, only to find their social support network pulled out from under them. Still only a teenager, Alicia had nowhere to go but the streets.

The Port Authority, illuminated day and night by the radiant lights of nearby Times Square, is home to the busiest bus terminal in the United States. It is a permanent scene of comings and goings, of not only transience, but homelessness. Often times, LGBTQ youth engage in trading sex for basic necessities, also known as “survival sex”. This can lead to exploitation and trafficking, which is what happened in Alicia’s case.

Starting as a one-time request, youth are groomed by more frequent asks to exchange sex for money as a way to contribute financially to a relationship, with appeals to a victim’s sense of loyalty. Exploiters thus seek out particularly vulnerable youth, who are homeless or runaway; or who have poor social supports. As these vulnerable youth become further removed from their social supports over time, the traffickers gain even more control. In Alicia’s case, intense emotional trauma ran deep, and it took time to come to terms with the fact that the person who provided them with opportunities to stop  living on the streets also put them in extreme danger and exploited them.

Finding Sanctuary, Alicia’s T visa case was soon presented to Jennifer Kroman, Sharon Barbour, Jessica Dwinell, and Michael Athy-Plunkett, the Cleary Gottlieb team whose skilled legal representation and trauma-informed advocacy will be recognized at this year’s Above & Beyond event. As with many Sanctuary clients, Alicia was repeatedly arrested for prostitution-related offenses, and with a prior immigration proceeding, their representation presented challenges that might give other attorneys pause. Yet Cleary jumped at the opportunity to educate USCIS about the devastating impact left by sex trafficking. The team worked tirelessly with their client to overcome the many hurdles the case threw in their way. As the nominators of their award made clear,

“They worked with a client that had suffered extreme trauma. They also dealt with an ever-changing political climate that complicated the immigration application. In the end, they dealt with each hurdle professionally, accurately and compassionately.”

The client came to Sanctuary feeling hopeless, but, working hand in hand with Alicia every step of the way, the attorneys on the case helped Alicia achieve results that were transformative. Michael Athy-Plunkett recalls the case as “having taught him what it means to be a true advocate.” As Sharon Barbour reflects,

“Several aspects of Alicia’s case were extremely challenging, but it was extremely rewarding—not only because we had a tremendous outcome, but also because throughout this experience we gained Alicia’s trust and got to know what a strong, courageous, and resilient person they are.”

As the case progressed, the team proved their dedication by expertly replying to two difficult Requests for Evidence from USCIS because of Alicia’s prior record resulting from their victimization within a six-month period. They never lost hope on the client or the case, and four years later Alicia received T nonimmigrant status.

“I’m very fortunate to have met a team of dedicated individuals at this organization,” reflects Alicia “By connecting with a group of lawyers — wonderful human beings who have helped thousands of victims of trafficking like me and without hope, to find a better life. I lived an existence that seemed so dark but is now shining like a beacon of hope that others can see.”

Alicia’s efforts to obtain steady work were further complicated without documentation, resulting in a barrier to stability. Yet with the team’s steadfast legal representation and Alicia’s acceptance to Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program during their representation, Alicia thrived, and today, Alicia has the tools needed to find long-term stability in the United States.

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 the outstanding pro bono work of Sharon, Jessica, Michael and Jennifer. 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.