Davis Polk Attorneys Help Trafficking Victim Tell Her Story, Secure T-Visa, and Aid in the Successful Prosecution of Her Traffickers

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell, LLP for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of their client, “Jie,” in her successful T-Visa application. Read to learn more.

Sam Zeidman is a Software Developer at Red Rabbit, LLC in New York. From 2012 through 2017 he was an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell in the Litigation Department.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell, LLP for their dedicated and powerful advocacy on behalf of their client, “Jie,” in her successful T-Visa application. The team consisted of former associate Lisa Doolittle, Associates Hanbing Zhang and Iris Hsiao, Partner Po Sit, and Special Counsel for Pro Bono Sharon Katz.

A Nexus of Vulnerability: From Domestic Abuse to Trafficking

Jie was living in China, married with children to an abusive husband. After their divorce her ex-husband took custody of their children because Jie lacked the financial resources to raise them. Jie sought employment so that she could earn money to win back custody of her children. She found what she thought was a promising job cleaning houses in the U.S. Despite not speaking English and having no connections in the U.S., she took the job.

Upon arrival in the U.S., it immediately became clear to Jie that the job she was promised was a sham. Instead, she was expected to engage in sexual acts in hotels and massage parlors. From the moment of entry to the U.S., every aspect of Jie’s life was controlled by her traffickers; unable to speak the language and with no one to reach out to, she felt helpless.

Despite the painful and frightening circumstances, Jie persisted in seeking a way out and never gave up hope that she would one day escape her traffickers.

After an Arrest, Another Legal Avenue

Jie was arrested on vice charges and was referred to New York’s Human Trafficking Intervention Court, where she was referred to Sanctuary’s Queens Trafficking Intervention Pro Bono Project (QTIPP) that, among other things, allowed her to meet with lawyers to discuss possible legal and immigration options.

Lisa Doolittle and Hanbing Zhang were the QTIPP volunteer attorneys for Jie’s legal consultation. Doolittle credits Zhang, a native Mandarin speaker, for forging a strong connection in a short time, which helped them gather enough information to determine that Jie was a good candidate for a T-Visa and quickly volunteered to represent her.  Lori L. Cohen, the Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary for Families, supervised the team and agreed Jie had a compelling case:

“This is a woman who was clearly trafficked, promised a job that didn’t exist, charged fictitious fees, kidnapped, held in a hotel, and raped by men paying to have sex when she did not agree.”

After an extensive series of meetings with Jie to establish their relationship, the DPW team began to advocate on her behalf as she cooperated with law enforcement into the investigation, arrest and prosecution of her traffickers, an emotionally challenging process. Sharon Katz noted that Jie “was initially very wary, even distrustful” of her new attorneys, understandable given her situation.

In addition to participating as a victim-witness in the criminal case, she was skeptical about the US immigration system, particularly the T-Visa process; like many other victims, she already had engaged an attorney who had filed an asylum application and said it was making progress. As Doolittle put it, “In her mind, why would attorneys who worked for free be high quality attorneys, especially compared to her paid attorney who repeatedly assured her he was making advancements in her asylum case?” (The team did not believe the asylum claim would prevail. Cohen said it was common for unscrupulous attorneys to charge women like Jie exorbitant fees up front but deliver very little. Because of the fees, women are drawn deeper in debt and may feel they need to continue working at massage parlors in order to pay it off.)

Meanwhile, the T-Visa process took time and required Jie to share information about some of the worst experiences of her life in great detail and to overcome cultural norms against speaking out about one’s bosses and revealing shameful events.  Moreover, she worried about retribution.

Patience and Persistence from Attorneys and Client

Over the course of a year, with great perseverance, the DPW team gradually gained Jie’s trust. Cohen said the team’s approach was key to making her comfortable with the process.

“They treated her with dignity, respect, patience, and compassion. Their humanity for this woman really came through as they quickly put together a strong, moving, powerful application.”

For their part, the attorneys believe Jie herself deserves most of the credit. Zhang stated,

“She was hesitant to share her story but also believed it was wrong for women to be treated as she was. She had a strong sense of justice and felt that the situation could not go on forever.”

Jie’s T-Visa application was eventually granted and her traffickers convicted.  The effect on Jie was noticeable. Katz said,

“A different part of her came through. She was smiling and outgoing, a change from the initial meetings.”

Iris Hsiao, who is working on the derivative visas for Jie’s children, noted that,

“[Jie] seems extremely hopeful and has more confidence in the process. Before she thought the application was pointless and would take forever, but she saw that waiting paid off in the end.”

As Doolittle put it,

“A burden was lifted. She has T-visa status and no longer has to live every day with the fear over her head that she will be sent back to China.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, New York as we honor this Davis Polk 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.

Cahill Partner and Associates Fight for Mother and Her Special-Needs Child

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a powerful and dedicated team from Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, for their successful representation over two years in Manhattan Family Court of an immigrant victim of domestic violence who was the sole caretaker of her a disabled daughter. Read to learn more.

Jamie Stinson is an associate in the Special Matters and Investigations practice in the New York office of King & Spalding. She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and Co-Chair of this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a powerful and dedicated team from Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, including Partner Joel Kurtzberg and Associates Kerry Burns and Kathleen Farley, for their successful representation over two years in Manhattan Family Court of an immigrant victim of domestic violence, a hardworking young woman from the Caribbean, who was the sole caretaker of her a disabled daughter. 

The team tirelessly worked to take both an order of protection and a visitation case to trial, obtain an order of protection and extremely limited visitation, and ultimately win an appeal that not only provided maximum protection for both mother and daughter but set important precedent.  

Protecting Mother and Daughter

The case began when Helen’s abusive ex-partner filed for custody of their five-year-old daughter, Anabel.  The little girl had been diagnosed with autism, asthma, sleep apnea, and cerebral palsy and needed round-the-clock, intensive care, which Helen uncomplainingly provided. Thanks to Helen (a pseudonym), Anabel was attending a wonderful school with expertise in her disabilities. After surviving a pattern of violent acts at the hands of Anabel’s father, which resulted in two hospitalizations and put Anabel, who was present, at physical and psychological risk, Helen entered a confidential domestic violence shelter and later found permanent housing. 

In 2012, Anabel needed surgery, and Helen contacted the child’s father to tell him about it.  Subsequently Helen permitted limited visitation, wanting her little girl to have her father in her life.  Unfortunately, Anabel’s father resumed his abusive behavior, demonstrated that he was unable to provide the safe and structured environment Anabel needed, and began putting pressure on Helen to move back in with him. Helen explained to Anabel’s father that their relationship was over.

In 2014 in retaliation, Anabel’s father filed a custody petition, falsely alleging that he had been denied visits with the child.  Cahill Associate Kerry Burns volunteered to take the case, with Partner Joel Kurtzberg supervising, and Associate Kathleen Farley later joining the team.

Fighting for Helen and Anabel

When Kerry took the case, she recognized that the abuse Helen suffered at the hands of her ex-partner was severe and escalating, put Anabel in harm’s way, and warranted a five-year Order of Protection that included the child.  This would require proving at trial that the violence committed against Helen in Anabel’s presence constituted “aggravating circumstances,” which is necessary for obtaining a five-year (as opposed to a two-year) Order of Protection.

In September 2016, the Cahill team represented Helen in a highly contested trial in Manhattan Family Court, which included discovery, the introduction into evidence of exhibits, and a cross-examination of Helen’s abuser, who was represented by a skilled, aggressive attorney.  Following the trial, the judge issued a disappointing decision that failed to protect Helen to the full extent possible.  While the judge found Helen to be a credible witness and found that her ex-partner had been violent to her in Anabel’s presence, he declined to find aggravating circumstances and issued an Order of Protection only two years, in part due to the amount of time that had passed since the specific instances of abuse (occurring in 2009-2010).

Believing that they could achieve a better result for Helen , the Cahill team appealed the decision, arguing that the severe abuse she suffered did in fact constitute aggravating circumstances.  On January 16, 2018, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court issued its decision, finding that the abuser had assaulted Helen so severely that she suffered physical injury, had assaulted her in the presence of Anabel, and that these factors, as well as the ongoing risk to Helen’s safety, constituted aggravating circumstances, entitling Helen and Anabel to a five-year order of protection, the longest possible.  About this sweeping appellate victory, Kerry stated,

“The judge credited everything our client said, and the [Appellate] decision was essentially 100% the brief that we filed on appeal.”

A New Trial and Another Victory

After prevailing in the Order of Protection case, the Visitation case went to trial. Although Helen’s abuser consented to Helen having full custody since it was apparent to all concerned that she was doing an extraordinary job caring for Anabel and he was not prepared or interested in taking on that level of responsibility, he petitioned for expansive, unsupervised visitation with the little girl. Helen was alarmed and the Cahill team agreed to fight for supervised visitation.

In preparation for the trial they obtained and studied Anabel’s extensive medical records and met with her school psychologist to understand more about Anabel’s medical and educational needs. Joel, Kerry, and Kathleen quickly realized that the psychologist would make a strong expert witness about the magnitude of Anabel’s needs and began to prepare her to testify. They also worked for hours with Helen to prepare her to testify about the vigilant, knowledgeable level of care that she provided Anabel on a 24-hour basis.

At trial, Helen covered the intensive caretaking that Anabel required and the school psychologist educated the court about the nature of Anabel’s disabilities and the techniques the father would need to but hadn’t learned in order to care for her.  Although the judge has a reputation for granting noncustodial parents generous, unsupervised visitation schedules, this time he did not. After a highly contested trial superbly litigated by Kerry and Kathleen, the court ordered that the father’s visitation be supervised and limited to a few hours each week.

A Victory for the Client and for Other Survivors

As a result of the Cahill team’s extraordinary efforts, not only was Helen awarded a five-year Order of Protection against her abuser, but the Appellate decision established important precedent for other domestic violence cases. Kerry noted,

“For the client, the decision was significant because it was such a great outcome for her. From a broader standpoint, the holding and reasoning in the Appellate decision can be used as precedent for many other cases.  This decision can be used to support the argument that the passage of time after incidents of domestic violence should not reduce the likelihood of a finding of aggravating circumstances when there has been physical injury.”

Reflecting on her work on this case, Kathleen appreciated her first drafting experience:

“It was great to get my first drafting experience, and to do it on a case where we could set significant precedent and clarify the law.”

Kerry was thrilled to be able to assist such a courageous, devoted mother:

“This experience was very rewarding. For me, the driving motivation was always the client.  I became close to her and really care about her.  She is a wonderful, positive person who is raising her special-needs daughter on her own.  It was very rewarding to be able to achieve a positive result for her.  In addition, it was definitely an eye-opening experience to see the family law system, and it was great to have a hand in creating precedent that will help other women and children.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, New York as we honor this Cahill 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.

Latham & Watkins Attorneys’ Leadership Inspires Fellow Attorneys to Take on Hundreds of Pro Bono Immigration Cases

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins who have tirelessly advocated for victims of domestic violence and have encouraged others at their firm to do the same. Read to learn more.

Colleen O’Brien is an attorney and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins who have tirelessly advocated for victims of domestic violence and have encouraged and inspired other Latham & Watkins attorneys to take on hundreds of pro bono immigration cases.

Taking the Lead

Jessica Rostoker, Irina Sivachenko, and Amanda Parisi, litigation associates in Latham & Watkin’s New York office, have been the backbone of Latham’s robust pro bono immigration practice, and in particular its Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) pro bono program.

With their support, last year Latham attorneys contributed the highest number of pro bono hours of any law firm that partners with Sanctuary for Families.  Besides taking on dozens of their own direct representation cases, Jessica, Irina, and Amanda have placed over 100 Sanctuary cases with other Latham attorneys and have worked to ensure that the Latham pro bono attorneys taking those cases are well-trained and have the resources and supervision they need to best assist survivors of gender-based violence seek immigration relief.  As Laura Atkinson-Hope, the Managing Attorney for Global Pro Bono at Latham attested,

“[Latham] couldn’t consistently take on so many cases without their incredible leadership.”

Pro Bono Work is Personal

For Irina, working on pro bono matters with immigrant women is a meaningful way to pay forward the benefits of her own experience.  An immigrant herself, Irina is familiar with what it is like to make the journey to the United States, but she acknowledges the difference for those who arrive in the U.S. to attend college, like she did, and those who are fleeing persecution or violence in their home country.

Similarly, Irina has noted that as a Latham associate, she benefits from the firm’s focus on providing professional development and support for women, and she finds it rewarding to find ways to help other women who otherwise don’t have that support in their lives.

Jessica, who has studied human development as an undergraduate, finds that working with victims of domestic violence allows her to combine her legal training with her academic background and desire to connect with her clients on a human level.

As all three women noted, survivors of domestic violence, especially those in the throes of an abusive relationship, often feel isolated and may not have many people in their lives who they can talk to about what they’re experiencing.  Over time, these clients have come to view their pro bono lawyers as confidantes and trusted allies who are there not only to help them fight their legal battles but also to listen to them and support them as they work to reach the next stage in their lives.

Amanda has experienced first-hand the importance of the work Sanctuary for Families and pro bono lawyers are doing.  Several of Sanctuary’s clients are often in volatile situations, and seeking legal relief can truly be a matter of life and death.  Advocating for those clients, and providing them with comfort when they need it most, is what makes the work most meaningful for Amanda.

Changing Lives

Last year, a significant number of Latham & Watkins attorneys worked on VAWA cases with guidance and support from Jessica, Irina, and Amanda.  The three women accept cases from Sanctuary for Families and either take them on personally or find other attorneys to staff the cases, and then provide them with training materials, sample documents, and substantive guidance along the way.

According to Deborah Lee, a Senior Staff Attorney with Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project, Jessica, Irina, and Amanda have never said “no” when she has asked them to take on a new case, and she often calls them to help with the cases that have the most complex legal challenges or involve highly sensitive situations.

When asked how her pro bono immigration work has affected her overall professional development, Irina noted how empowering it is for young lawyers to have the chance to work directly with clients and manage their cases.

“We live in one of the most diverse cities in the world, but we still live in our own bubbles…this pro bono work makes me a better attorney and a better person.”

But as meaningful as Jessica, Irina, and Amanda have found the work to be, for their clients, it is life changing.  Clients frequently comment to the Latham team, and to Deborah, how grateful they are for the help they’ve received from their pro bono counsel.  They feel respected and valued and know that they are just as important to Latham’s lawyers as their paying clients.  And nothing can compare to clients’ reactions when, months or years later, they receive permanent residency.  The joy and relief they experience is incomparable and never fails to move their dedicated legal teams.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, New York as we honor this Latham & Watkins 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.

Skadden Arps Team Secures Asylum Status for FGM Survivor and Helps her Build a New Life in the U.S.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, we’re honoring a team from Skadden Arps for their dedicated pro bono work on behalf of an asylum seeker from Guinea. Read to learn more.

Todd Schmid is Legal Counsel at HSBC Bank and member of Sanctuary’s PBC.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Skadden Arps for their dedicated pro bono work on behalf of an asylum seeker from Guinea.  The Skadden team includes Mariam Adamashvili, Avelina Burbridge, Sarah D. Kalin, Ana Maria Pearce, Sarah R. Ridel, Victoria Smallwood, and Gabrielle E. Wolf.

Aimée

Picture this: a group of women huddled nervously but hopefully around a desk counter at a quiet government building on the fringes of New York City, awaiting a decision that would directly impact the life of one, and would ultimately affect the lives of every woman in the room.

When Aimée received the news that she had been granted asylum in the United States, she grew weak in the knees, falling back into the arms of her legal team. It was an emotional and powerful moment. It was the culmination of the hard work of a dedicated team of attorneys and legal staff at Skadden Arps and the consistent determination of their ever-brave and motivated client, Aimée (not her real name), a woman from Guinea, all with the incredible support of Sanctuary for Families over the course of two years.

Female Genital Muilation

Aimée, as a child, endured female genital mutilation or cutting (“FGM/C”), and other domestic abuse, in her home country, Guinea, where the practice has deep family and sociocultural roots and is often considered a rite of passage, despite the immediate complications and long-term physical, sexual and psychological consequences that so often result. “It is often viewed as a way to control a woman’s desire, as a way to inhibit her freedom,” noted Gabrielle Wolf, Director at Innisfree M&A Incorporated and a former Skadden attorney.

Guinea formally banned FGM/C in the 1960s but still has the second highest rate in the world, with virtually no enforcement or cases brought to trial. International political recognition of the problem is a key step forward, as the human rights issue rarely attracts the public attention it deserves, let alone political resolve.

The United Nations, the World Health Organization and many other international and national government organizations fully recognize this practice as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, reflecting deep inequality between the sexes, and an extreme form of discrimination against women. However, there are many ongoing challenges to building an effective on-the-ground public health and advocacy response, and the practice has far from disappeared in many countries, including Guinea.

Sanctuary Turns to Skadden Arps

When Aimée came to Sanctuary for Families, they quickly discovered that the original asylum application she had filed was patchy and did not adequately detail the abuse she had suffered as both a child and an adult.   Sanctuary turned  to Skadden Arps to prepare a more robust application on her behalf. The firm quickly assembled a team of attorneys and legal assistants, who began working to understand Aimée’s case and to fortify her application in an ever-evolving political and legal environment. Representing Aimée was not without its challenges. Skadden attorney Sarah Kalin explained:

“Asylum work is not our day job, so trying to remain abreast as laws, policies, even as the sentiments of these agencies were changing day to day quickly became more of a full-time job than we expected.”

The women who endure FGM/C often lack the political voice to share their stories. “But for Aimée, working with a talented group of dedicated women, who not only met with her on legal matters but often accompanied her to medical and other appointments, was empowering,” said Skadden attorney Avelina Burbridge.  In reflecting upon her team, Aimée shared:

“These wonderful and brave women lawyers have spared no effort to get me where I am today.”

Yet the women who had the chance to represent her felt that Aimée inspired them, too. Sarah Kalin shared:

“She is not unlike each of us: she’s about our age; she’s smart and educated, but she just happened to grow up in a different part of the world. To see how she made her way to the U.S., without speaking the language, without much in the way of support; to witness her story evolve and watch her integrate into American society, always with the support of Sanctuary, and to really build a life for herself is inspiring. She is a real asset to American society.”

Looking Toward the Future

The team still stays in touch with Aimée today, and with Sanctuary’s talented support, they have watched her confidence soar, as she improves her English skills and receives robust job training to further her aspirations to pursue a career in health services. Recently, she obtained a Home Health Aid Certificate and graduated from Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program.

“I’ve regained the humanity, the self-confidence, and the appetite for life that I thought I’d lost forever. Today I have a good head on my shoulders and find fulfillment in the unconditional love of my son. If there exists an American dream, mine is my encounter with Sanctuary for Families.”

– Aimée

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 Skadden Arps’ 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.