As I mentioned in my last post, one of GAIN’s core functions is to refer clients to attorneys interested in pro bono work to raise awareness of and help tackle issues affecting immigrants like human trafficking. As part of this function, GAIN seeks to build relationships with different parts of the Atlanta legal community. In addition to several law firms, many major corporations in Atlanta have in house counsels that volunteer their time to pro bono work with GAIN. This week, GAIN reached out to Delta Airline’s in house counsel team, and led a training session to give the team some background on how to help immigrant victims of violence and persecution with different forms immigration relief.
The first presentation at the training was on the issue of human trafficking and was given by Special Agent Mina Riley with Homeland Security Investigations, Immigration Customs Enforcement. Human trafficking, also called trafficking in persons, is a modern-day form of slavery and is a crime under international and federal law. The two types of trafficking are sex trafficking, which is sexual exploitation or forced prostitution, and labor trafficking, which is forced labor or little or no pay. While the focus of GAIN’s work is with foreign victims of human trafficking, U.S. citizens can be domestically trafficked as well. Sadly, all of these victims are often in plain sight: they work in hair salons, construction, massage spas, karaoke bars, restaurants, and even brothels that appear to be very normal-looking houses in very normal-looking neighborhoods. But because of lack of awareness of the issue, these victims often go unnoticed. Even worse, laws against prostitution and undocumented immigrants stigmatize these victims in ways that prevent them from seeking help. Many think if they go to the authorities, they will be penalized, criminally charged, or deported. Additionally, traffickers often tell them this to maintain their control over them. While unfortunately that sometimes still does happen, law enforcement education and awareness is improving; law enforcement is becoming better at identifying trafficking situations and helping victims. In addition to identifying trafficking victims and bringing traffickers to justice, another way law enforcement helps trafficking victims is to sign a certification in support of a T-visa application. A T-visa is a form of immigration relief, designed specifically for foreign human trafficking victims. This certification not only confirms that the person was a victim of human trafficking, it also states that the victim assisted law enforcement in their investigation of their traffickers. While not a mandatory component of a T-visa application, it is one of the most convincing pieces of evidence.
Human Trafficking Presentation by Homeland Security Investigations
U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Campaign for Raising Awareness of Human Trafficking: Poster on the New York City Metro
Massage Parlors Have Been Used by Human Traffickers as Brothels or Places of Involuntary Servitude
House Used by Human Traffickers as a Brothel Discovered by Homeland Security Investigations
Brothels Appear Like Ordinary Houses and Use Symbols Like this Stone Dragon as Identifiers for “Customers”
The second presentation of the training session was by Laura Carter from Tapestri, a social services organization dedicated to ending violence and oppression in refugee and immigrant communities. She spoke on the topic of working with victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault and the role of social service providers. She explained that when a victim of one of these acts of violence is being removed from the victimizing situation, they have several types of needs. These needs include safety (e.g. possible relocation, safety planning in case of an emergency), food, clothing, personal care, housing, interpretation/translation, transportation to appointments, counseling for legal help mental health, medical, access to public benefits and crime victims compensation, and legal (e.g. locating an attorney to assist with immigration relief, referrals to law enforcement, adjustment of status, and support during prosecution). Ms. Carter also explained that Tapestri’s role is to coordinate all these needs, while GAIN’s role is to assist with the legal need of immigration relief or adjustment of status.
Tapestri Presentation on Working with Victims of Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, and Sexual Assault and the Role of Social Service Providers
The third presentation of the training was led by Aparna Bhattacharyya, from Raksha. Meaning protection in several South Asian languages, Raksha is a Georgia-based nonprofit organization that addresses social issues within the South Asian community such as family and sexual violence, divorce, and the integration of new immigrants. As an organization with such a strong focus on immigrants from a particular region, Ms. Bhattacharyya spoke about the importance of cultural competency when serving clients of foreign origin, especially when interviewing them. Part of this is being a good active listener, but it also includes being sensitive to how overwhelming the immigration system is by being supportive, empowering, and clear on your role and what you are helping them with. Additionally, for many foreign-born clients, English is not their first language, so Ms. Bhattacharyya also advised how attorneys should work with interpreters. For example, some words like domestic violence, rape, and human trafficking, are difficult to translate because those words may not exist in that language. Therefore, it is important to give explanations of these terms and go slowly so that the client can understand. Additionally, the client might be uneasy telling his/her story through the interpreter because it reveals so many intimate details and he/she might not be used to talking about such issues because of his/her background. Or, conversely, he/she might be more comfortable with the interpreter than the attorney because of their shared background and language. Therefore, it is important to set boundaries so that the interpreter does not speak above the client or give his/her own advice.
Raksha’s Presentation on Cultural Competency
The final presentation was led by GAIN’s executive director, Monica Khant., and Alpa Amin, GAIN’s Lead Attorney for the Victims of Violence Program. They explained GAIN’s history and that it, in partnership with volunteer attorneys like Delta’s in house counsel, assists its clients with four types of immigration relief: T-visas, U-visas, VAWA, and Asylum. The T and U-visas were established by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 for the dual purpose of assisting law enforcement and protecting and assisting victims of human trafficking and other violent crimes. The T-Visa is designed to help victims of human trafficking via the federal statute and it grants status for four years to 5,000 qualifying people annually. The U-visa is for victims of certain qualifying state crimes (e.g. domestic violence battery or sexual assault) and it also grants status for four years but to 10,000 qualifying people annually. After three years of holding a T or U-visa, a person can apply for a green card for legal permanent resident status, and after five years of holding a green card he or she can apply for U.S. citizenship. The visas have different benefits and the applications have different elements each candidate (with the aid of a GAIN or volunteer attorney) must prove. In contrast, VAWA, which stands for the Violence Against Women Act, is a form of relief, under which an abused spouse of a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident can adjust his/her status from what is typically a temporary visa to eventually legal permanent resident status. This provision of VAWA ensures that domestic violence victims are no longer dependent on their abusive spouses to adjust their status, because oftentimes their abusers will use their lack of status as a way to exert their control and frighten them into obeying them and staying with them. Finally, as previously discussed in my last post, asylum grants refugee status to people who have suffered or have an reasonable fear of persecution in their home country on account of their political beliefs, nationality, ethnicity, religion, or membership in a social group. Monica, Alpa, and the other presenters ended the training session by asking Delta’s in house counsel to please consider taking on some cases from GAIN. The group seemed very interested in lending their help, so we are hoping to place a few new cases with Delta soon.
GAIN’s Presentation on Immigration Relief and the Role of GAIN and Volunteer Attorneys
The second training session that I went to this week was hosted by the law firm, Alston & Bird. Alston & Bird is another well-established law firm in Atlanta, and like King & Spalding, it generously lends the time of its attorneys to helping with cases from GAIN. This training, however, was a bit different from the one at Delta; it addressed the concerning issue of unaccompanied minors, also called unaccompanied alien children (UAC), crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. In 2013, about 24,000 UACs were apprehended by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, and in 2014 that number swelled to 36,113. Although many of these children are returned to their home countries (usually the Central American countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), some do qualify for immigration relief. This could either be through asylum or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). While the training talked briefly about asylum, it focused mostly on SIJS, which is not as well known. To qualify for SIJS, a state juvenile, family or orphan court (depending on the state) must make an order that declares that the minor is a dependent of the court or legally places the minor with a state agency, a private agency, or a private person, that it is not in the best interests of the minor to return him/her to his/her home country, and that the minor cannot be reunited with a parent because he/she was abused, abandoned, or neglected. Like the Delta training, there were several presentations on addressing the various issues arising with working with UAC and SIJS applications. While GAIN does not typically take on SIJS cases, it was very informative because sometimes GAIN is referred juvenile clients. Knowing that SIJS is a possible form of relief in addition to the U and T visas, VAWA, and asylum for such clients and what the requirements are to apply for such relief will help me better assess what is the best form of immigration relief for potential GAIN juvenile clients.
Training on Unaccompanied Minors at Alston & Bird
While the week was busy in terms of training sessions, this weekend I had the opportunity to enjoy some site seeing. Just outside of Atlanta is Stone Mountain, which is a mountain known for its beautiful view of Atlanta, several hiking trails, and an enormous bas-relief carving on its north side. The bas-relief carving depicts three confederate leaders of the Civil War: Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson astride their favorite mounts (Blackjack, Traveller, and Little Sorrel). In 1916, Mrs. C. Helen Plane, a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, commissioned Gutzon Borglum to do the carving, but he abandoned the project in 1925 and went on to do an even more famous mountain sculpture: Mount Rushmore. Over the years, two other sculptors took up Borglum’s work, but both of them also abandoned the project. Finally, in 1972, the work was completed by sculptor Roy Faulkner. Covering three acres in area, it is the largest bas-relief carving in the world, larger than a football field and Mount Rushmore. However, Stone Mountain did remind me of the confederate version of Mount Rushmore. I was uneasy about such a large memorial to confederate leadership, because for many, the confederacy represents the endorsement of slavery and racism. This point of view was prominently on my mind because I was working on grading Joint Journal Competition (JJC) entries. Every year, William and Mary law journals host JJC for rising second year law students interested in being on a journal. JJC helps the journals with the selection process. I am an articles editor for William and Mary’s Law Review, and as part of my job, I helped grade the JJC comment entries. This year, entrants were required to write about Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. v. Vandergriff, an upcoming Supreme Court case on whether individuals have the right to have specialty license plates displaying the confederate flag. For organizations like Sons of Confederate Veterans, the confederate flag represent their heritage and love of the South. But, as I said, for many others, it represents racism and an endorsement of slavery. Additionally, many sources say that the mountain was where the Ku Klux Klan was revived in 1915. Regardless of my mixed feelings, the carving was beautiful and the view was even better. Additionally, I do believe having reminders of history is important, even if that history might be painful. It is important not to forget. Also, it is important to note that Dr. Martin Luther King actually included Stone Mountain in his “I have a Dream Speech,” when he hoped that freedom would “ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.” Consequently, on anniversaries of his speech, the park holds a memorial service there.
Stone Mountain and the Bas-Relief Carving
View from Stone Mountain