Gibson Team Honored for Representation of a Survivor of Child Abuse in an Asylum Case

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor a Gibson Dunn team for their dedication to representing “Ms. N” in a defensive asylum case.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families will be honoring a team from Gibson Dunn for their dedication to representing “Ms. N” from El Salvador in a defensive asylum case. The outstanding team representing Ms. N included associates Alexandra Perloff-Giles and Ana Lopez, and former Gibson Dunn associate Philip Shapiro.

Ms. N is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. As a young teenager, her mother sold her to a MS-13 gang member and she was forced to become his girlfriend. During the course of their “relationship,” the man verbally, physically, and sexually abused Ms. N. She had one child with him. When Ms. N bravely reported the abuse to the authorities in El Salvador, a judge ruled that it was not rape since Ms. N had become pregnant. Ms. N attempted to escape this relationship multiple times. Finally, after six years, she was able to flee El Salvador in 2015 and entered the United States after being detained for three months.

The Gibson team began working on the case in 2016, meeting with Ms. N dozens of times in preparation for the Individual Hearing, which was scheduled for 2019. All of the materials—including affidavits, certified translations, expert reports, and a legal brief—had been submitted. But just days before the scheduled hearing, it was adjourned nearly four years, to January 2023, ostensibly because a Spanish interpreter was not available. On the new date, the Immigration Judge realized she did not have a copy of Ms. N’s file and the case was further adjourned by one month.

While the significant delays presented certain challenges, they also proved fortuitous in certain respects. The Matter of A-B- decision by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in June 2018—also involving a Salvadoran woman impregnated by her abuser—made asylum claims by survivors of domestic violence significantly more challenging. But in June 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland vacated the prior Matter of A-B- decision, permitting victims of sexual violence to show, as they previously had, that they had suffered harm at the hands of a private actor whom the government was unable or unwilling to control.

In the lead-up to the new hearing date, the Gibson team once again kicked into gear, updating affidavits, obtaining additional evidence, and preparing Ms. N to testify at trial. Given how young she had been when the events took place and the extent of her trauma, it was difficult for Ms. N to relive her experiences and recall the timeline of events; as a therapist who met with Ms.N explained, her trauma manifests as avoidance, complicating the process of drafting her affidavit and preparing her to testify. Throughout this lengthy process, the Gibson team remained patient and understanding, balancing sensitivity to Ms. N’s unique struggles with a commitment to readying her for trial.

Philip, who had worked with Ms. N since the very beginning, led the pre-hearing conferencing with the DHS attorney and delivered opening and closing arguments during the trial. Alexandra led the briefing efforts. Ana conducted the direct examination of Ms. N—a relatively late change in strategy after the team saw during prep sessions that Ms. N appeared more open and comfortable being questioned by a female attorney. Ultimately, after seven years and a four-hour trial, Ms. N was finally granted asylum in early 2023.

In addition to the team’s stellar legal work, what motivated Deirdre Stradone, Co-Deputy Director of the Immigration Intervention Project, to nominate Gibson Dunn for recognition was their trauma-informed lawyering. Like the majority of Sanctuary’s clients, Ms. N has suffered severe and sustained violence in her home country and continues to struggle today. An asylum case is always difficult for a client, who has to relive their trauma and spend hours retelling their story to practice for direct and cross-examination for trial. But Ms. N essentially had to undergo this process three times—each time her trial was scheduled and then cancelled on short notice. Because Ms. N’s trauma manifests as avoidance, she avoided meetings with her attorneys; she regularly cancelled at the last minute, or showed up late, or couldn’t come in person and would take calls from her home.

Deirdre was so impressed with the Gibson team’s tireless, sympathetic, and trauma-informed approach:

“When Ms. N cancelled or was late, the team did everything they could to work around her schedule and make themselves available at her convenience, and never questioned her reasons for cancelling or made her feel guilty about it. They just asked if she was okay and safe. They were always so respectful of her and really allowed for her to feel empowered and understand what was happening in her legal case.”

When Ms. N was finally granted asylum, the joy and relief was palpable on everyone’s faces. Deirdre could see the happiness that the team felt to know that Ms. N was safe, she could remain in the U.S., and we could finally work to bring her son to the U.S. to join her.

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Gibson Dunn’s outstanding pro bono work.



Naina Rasheed is a Corporate Governance Specialist in the Office of the Corporate Secretary at American International Group, Inc. Naina is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and Co-Chair of this year’s Above and Beyond Pro Bono Awards and Benefit.

Simpson Thacher Secures T-Visa Immigration Status for Labor Trafficking Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor a Simpson Thacher team for their patient and compassionate pro bono representation.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (“Simpson Thacher”) for their patient and compassionate pro bono representation of “Sylvia” in obtaining T Nonimmigrant status. The team consisted of Partner, Leanne Welds; Of Counsel, Mark J. Stein; and former Associate, Suzy R. Yaster.

At the age of 13, Sylvia was forced into an arranged marriage—an event that commenced years of forced labor and abuse in and between Sylvia’s home country and the United States. Following the marriage, Sylvia was immediately taken out of school and moved from her childhood home into the home of her new in-laws, where she was forced to work in domestic servitude for the remainder of her teenage years. In her early twenties, Sylvia was sent to care for her then-ill husband and trafficker in the United States, a country where she knew no one. Her time spent in the United States provided no reprieve for Sylvia. She was kept isolated, preventing her from building any community; subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse; and forced to work at the bequest and under the complete control of her trafficker-husband. Sylvia ultimately bore two children by her abuser.

Notwithstanding these painful circumstances, Sylvia’s children are her pride and joy, and were a primary motivation for her bravely seeking assistance to find a safe home for her and her children away from her abusive husband. In 2018, Sylvia was fortuitously connected with Simpson Thacher subsequent to a referral to Sanctuary’s Human Trafficking Intervention Court Clinic in Queens by a partnering organization. Sylvia was immediately identified as a potential trafficking victim. During her intake, Sylvia shared parts of her deeply complex story for the first time with now Partner, Leanne Welds. When Sanctuary for Families sought to refer the matter to the firm, Simpson Thacher generously agreed to assist Sylvia with her application for T Nonimmigrant Status on a pro bono basis.

From the outset, the Simpson Thacher team built rapport with Sylvia, earning her trust and beginning to unravel Sylvia’s story. Over the next four years, Sylvia courageously fled her trafficker with her children, shared her story with legal authorities, and applied for immigration status based on the human trafficking crimes that were committed against her. The Simpson Thacher team spent many hours with Sylvia, preparing the supporting affidavit needed to apply for T Nonimmigrant Status and preparing her to report the crimes against her and respond to questions from the US Attorney’s Office (“USAO”). From conducting mock interviews, to supporting Sylvia at the interview with the USAO, to the careful preparation and submission of Sylvia’s application, Welds described the entire process as a labor of love by the entire Simpson Thacher team. Ultimately, Simpson Thacher’s efforts were successful as Sylvia’s T Nonimmigrant Status application was approved earlier this year.

Welds, Stein and Yaster expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to represent and support Sylvia over the past few years. Welds noted,

“This experience truly highlights that our impact in the world should not always be measured by its breadth but also its depth. Obtaining T Nonimmigrant Status was a life-changing and live-saving experience for Sylvia and her children, an outcome that would likely not have been achieved without significant time commitment and devotion to building the strongest case for Sylvia’s circumstance.”

Jessica-Wind Abolafia, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary for Families, concluded,

“I applaud the Simpson Thacher team for their deeply compassionate, skilled, and patient advocacy. Their steadfast and dedicated representation allowed them to support Sylvia in disclosing her story and even to find healing during the process.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s outstanding pro bono work.



Nicole Vescova is an associate in the Miami office of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, and a member of its Labor & Employment Practice, where she regularly defends employers of all sizes and sectors against all types of employment claims. Nicole is also a member of Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Counsel.

Latham & Watkins Team Secure Clemency Grant for Incarcerated Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor a Latham & Watkins team for their outstanding work securing a clemency grant for an incarcerated survivor.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to honor Latham & Watkins’ Melange Gavin, Wendy Gu, and Jamie Wine, and former Latham attorneys Brittany Ehardt and Jaclyn Newman, for their outstanding work securing a clemency grant for an incarcerated survivor of gender-based violence.

Last year, we shared on our blog that, after over 10 years of incarceration, domestic violence survivor Jacqueline Smalls had been granted clemency by Governor Kathy Hochul. Today, we are honored to highlight the Above & Beyond honorees who made this happen through their outstanding dedication, creative lawyering, and advocacy. Latham & Watkins associates Melange Gavin and Wendy Gu, and former associates Brittany Ehardt and Jaclyn Newman, with supervision and strategic guidance from partner Jamie Wine, worked with Jacqueline over a period of three years. During this time, they built a strong relationship with their client and worked tirelessly to advocate for her release, focusing on both a Domestic Violence Survivors’ Justice Act (DVSJA) resentencing motion and a clemency grant as possible pathways to her freedom.

Both options posed significant challenges: while a DVSJA motion would reduce Jacqueline’s sentence, resulting in her release for time served under the more favorable DVSJA sentencing guidelines, it would also have required a difficult and retraumatizing resentencing hearing. A clemency grant, meanwhile, relied entirely on the discretion of the governor’s office, and necessitated an enormous amount of work with no guarantee that it would result in success given the low numbers of clemency grants awarded each year. The team ultimately decided to pursue the clemency path anyway, knowing that if it were unsuccessful, they could pivot to a DVSJA motion down the line. As part of this process, the Latham team worked on a comprehensive clemency application that included a video of Jacqueline and other survivor clemency applicants, engaged in extensive legal advocacy, and met with the governor’s clemency bureau.

The case for Jacqueline’s release was extraordinarily compelling. During their two-year relationship, Jacqueline’s partner had subjected her to intense physical abuse—including strangulation, one of the highest lethality risk factors—and had been subsequently arrested several times. On the night of August 26, 2012, Jacqueline’s abuser entered her home in violation of two Orders of Protection that she had obtained against him. As her abuser moved to confront Jacqueline, she stabbed him once with a kitchen knife, killing him. Despite the obvious history of domestic violence, trauma, and clear danger to Jacqueline that evening, prosecutors charged her with second-degree murder. Jacqueline ultimately entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter and received a 15-year sentence. On December 21, 2022, Governor Hochul announced that she was granting clemency to Jaqueline, along with twelve others. Sanctuary and the Latham team were overjoyed with the news.

We are so thrilled to highlight the incredible work undertaken by Jaclyn, Melange, Wendy, Brittany, and Jamie. Thanks to their advocacy, Jacqueline was released and reunited with her family in January 2023. Staff members from Sanctuary were present alongside the Latham team to welcome Jacqueline home and join her and her family for Jacqueline’s first meal outside prison in over 10 years. It was truly incredible to witness firsthand the warmth and trust that had developed between the team and Jacqueline after their years of fighting together to correct this failure of our criminal legal system.

Director of the Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative Ross Kramer said,

“The Latham team’s outstanding legal work made a life-changing impact in this case. They believed in Jacqueline from the start, and they delivered. Their representation gave Jacqueline years of her life back, to spend with family, friends, and community. This would not have happened without the Latham team’s advocacy, creativity, and dedication.”

Latham’s Public Service Counsel and Director of Global Pro Bono Laura Atkinson-Hope concluded,

“Securing clemency for Ms. Smalls was the result of tremendous dedication and tireless effort from the team as well as incredible strategic guidance from Sanctuary for Families. I am so proud of everyone involved in achieving this result, and so grateful for our longstanding partnership with Sanctuary.”

To read more about this incredible case, including our interview with the team, please see here.

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Latham & Watkins’ outstanding pro bono work.



Romy Felsen-Parsons is the Pro Bono Project Assistant at Sanctuary for Families.

Cozen O’Connor Team Secures Survivor’s Release From Prison

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to honor a Cozen O’Connor team who secured their client’s release from prison after more than 10 years of incarceration.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to honor Cozen O’Connor Members Matthew L. Elkin and Emily Shoor, associate Maria Ermakova, and former Cozen O’Connor associate Lisa Coutu. Matt, Emily, Maria, and Lisa spent three years working to secure their client’s release from prison after more than 10 years of incarceration.

We previously wrote a June 2023 Pro Bono Spotlight highlighting the outstanding work of Cozen O’Connor Members Matthew L. Elkin and Emily Shoor, who, together with associate Maria Ermakova and former Cozen associate Lisa Coutu, helped to secure the release of their client, Ms. S, through a Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA)¹  resentencing motion. Without the DVSJA resentencing, Ms. S would have served nearly 15 more years for her manslaughter conviction, in which she stabbed her former partner and abuser after he broke into her home in the middle of the night and attacked her. Incredibly, the dangerous and traumatic history of domestic violence was never brought up for consideration during Ms. S’s trial. We are deeply grateful to Emily, Matt, Maria, and Lisa for investing hundreds of hours into securing freedom for this deeply deserving survivor.

Ms. S, like so many incarcerated women, suffered horrific abuse throughout her life from several intimate partners. The abuse by her now-deceased former partner, Mr. B, included severe sexual, psychological, and physical abuse, including many incidents of strangulation to the point of unconsciousness. The kind of abuse she suffered put Ms. S at significantly high risk of femicide at the hands of her abuser. Ultimately, Ms. S left Mr. B and began to implement an exit strategy. However, the day before Ms. S was scheduled to move, she woke up to realize that Mr. B had broken into her apartment. Mr. B attacked Ms. S, throwing her against a wall and strangling her. To protect herself, Ms. S grabbed a nearby sharp object and stabbed Mr. B once. The blow was not intended to be fatal – in fact, Ms. S immediately began conducting CPR on Mr. B, and she did not know that Mr. B had died until the police revealed it to her in questioning.

As mentioned, shockingly, this history of domestic violence and the circumstances surrounding Mr. B’s death were never raised at trial. Ms. S was acquitted of second degree murder but convicted of manslaughter in the first degree and given the maximum sentence of 25 years.

While incarcerated, Ms. S reached out to Sanctuary for legal assistance. Sanctuary recruited the law firm of Cozen O’Connor to help Ms. S with her case, and Elkin, Shoor, Ermakova, and Coutu eagerly agreed to submit a DVSJA resentencing application on Ms. S’s behalf. Some of this work included compiling letters from her family members, tracking down old documents related to the case, and drafting a comprehensive brief and client affidavit that compellingly illustrated the direct connection between the history of domestic violence and the crime of conviction. To create these materials, the Cozen team met with Ms. S over the course of several years, building a strong relationship based on trust and empathy as they delved back into Ms. S’s extensive trauma history.

Ultimately, after a meeting with the District Attorney’s office to present Ms. S’s story and months of strategic advocacy, the DA consented to the re-sentencing. With that consent, the Judge ordered Ms. S’s release at the first court appearance and she was out of prison and reunited with her family the following afternoon.

Director of the Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative Ross Kramer said,

“The Cozen team went ‘above and beyond’ by advocating for Ms. S with skill, tenacity, and persistence over the course of this very long and difficult case. In their three years representing Ms. S, the team gave her hope. For the first time, she believed that attorneys were listening to her, that they believed her, and that they would fight for her. Ms. S was incarcerated for 11 difficult years. But because of the Cozen team’s efforts, more than half her sentence was wiped out. The team literally gave Ms. S back more than a decade of her life – a decade that she can now spend reconnecting with her friends, family and community.”

Cozen Director of Pro Bono Engagement Melinda Levine deLisle concluded,

“I am so proud of the dedication and hard work of the Cozen O’Connor team over the last few years to free Ms. S, and so grateful to Sanctuary for Families for its leadership in this important cause and for giving us the opportunity to contribute.”

We are so grateful to Emily, Matt, Maria, and Lisa for their amazing work and are so thrilled that Ms. S is home at last.

To read more about this incredible case, including our interview with Emily and Matt, please see here.

¹ Criminal Procedure Law § 440.47(1), known as the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA), allows the sentencing court to resentence a domestic violence survivor who suffered sexual, psychological or physical abuse that contributed to their conviction if certain criteria are met.

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Cozen O’Connor’s outstanding pro bono work.



Romy Felsen-Parsons is the Pro Bono Project Assistant at Sanctuary for Families.