November 24, 2020

On October 29, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) granted Willkie’s T visa application on behalf of trafficking victim Ms. A. T visa status is a temporary immigration benefit that enables certain victims of a severe form of human trafficking to remain in the United States for up to 4 years if they have assisted law enforcement in an investigation or prosecution of human trafficking. T nonimmigrants are eligible for employment authorization and may also be able to adjust their status and become lawful permanent residents.

Ms. A is a transgender woman from Argentina, where she faced police brutality and economic discrimination for her transgendered identity. In 2003, Ms. A decided to move to the United States for safety and better economic opportunities. Ms. A first flew to Tijuana, Mexico, where she met coyotes who offered to help her cross the border. The coyotes told her to hide in the trunk of a car and remain silent. She was driven from Tijuana to Los Angeles, California, where she paid the coyotes $3,000. She was then transferred to another car headed to New York City. When Ms. A arrived in New York City, the drivers insisted that she owed them another $3,000. Since she could not pay the additional fee, Ms. A was forced into prostitution. She was held hostage in a house in Queens, New York for a year and a half. She was expected to work, even if she was sick. She was constantly threatened, beaten, and was never allowed to see a doctor for her injuries. Around April 2005, Ms. A was finally released from the house. She was put in a truck and dropped off in a street in Jamaica, Queens, with no money and no passport.

In 2018, Ms. A met with the Willkie Team, who contacted the Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit to disclose her experience to law enforcement. In her T visa application, the Willkie team provided affidavits from Ms. A’s physician and mental health counselor to demonstrate that she was receiving necessary care in the U.S. that would be adversely affected if she were forced to return to Argentina. The team also provided affidavits from LGBTQ organizations where Ms. A volunteered to demonstrate that she was a contributing member of her community.

The Willkie team consisted of partner Heather Schneider and associates Jessica Blanton and Michelle Polizzano. The client came to Willkie through City Bar Justice Center.