In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net has lined up a variety of guest bloggers from law firms, legal aid organizations and elsewhere to share their pro bono ideas and experiences.Visit the Celebrate Pro Bono site to learn more about Celebrate Pro Bono.
Since 2011, I’ve worked at Polaris, a leading non-profit organization in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery and restore freedom to survivors. When I started, I worked at the hotline that we operate, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Every day, we got calls from people living in trafficking situations across the country, looking for help. Sometimes it would be a farmworker whose boss seized his passport, wouldn’t pay him for his work and told him if he left he’d get busted by immigration authorities. Other times the call would come from a brave teenager who’d had enough of her abusive pimp and wanted to find a way out of the life. There were all sorts of calls in between, from women held in domestic servitude, young men in traveling sales crews, and others.
What I learned from these calls was that a lot of the time what a survivor of human trafficking is looking for involves the help of a good lawyer. Many survivors of trafficking work without getting paid and need help seeking back wages. Some are from foreign countries and, despite being trafficked in the U.S., want to stay here and need help applying for immigration remedies like a T or U visa. Others have rap sheets with prostitution-related crimes on their record – arrests that happened while they were victims of sex trafficking – and want to have those convictions vacated so they can move on with their life.
What I’ve seen at Polaris is that the legal needs of trafficking survivors have a wide range, from the above issues to family law, juvenile justice, and even tax issues, calling for various kinds of legal expertise. When we’re able to connect a survivor of trafficking to an attorney who can help right a wrong, those attorneys work to empower survivors to build a strong, sustainable life after their trafficking situation. Seeing that survivors of trafficking get pro bono legal assistance is a great feeling.