Every case has its challenges, but some cases have more than their share of problems.
About a year ago, I met Carol (not her real name). Carol is from South Korea and had come to the U.S. with the “help” of a “travel agent” in 2002.
She thought she was coming to work in retail or to house clean – she owed the agent money from a loan and was told the fastest way to pay it back would be to come to the United States to work. Only, once she arrived, she quickly learned that the travel agent had another job for her in mind. She was forced to work in a brothel as a prostitute.
The trafficker took Carol’s travel documents and told her that he would hurt her family in South Korea if she didn’t do as she was told. She didn’t speak any English and had no idea where she could turn to for help, so she submitted to her fate.
After two years, ICE raided the “massage parlor” where Carol was working. All of the women were initially granted Deferred Action by ICE and were able to obtain work cards, enabling them to start a new chapter in their lives.
However, Carol was hesitant to tell her story because she was scared of retaliation. What would happen if the trafficker heard that she had cooperated in the investigation or prosecution? She also knew of women who had worked with ICE, but when the investigation hit a dead end and the brothel owners were released, they were forced to return to being prostitutes.
Carol’s trafficker was brought to justice and is currently in jail.
Carol was put in deportation proceedings after her Deferred Action grant expired. She hired an attorney who applied for her to get a U visa. The attorney was able to get the deportation case closed, but the U visa was denied. They hadn’t been able to obtain the mandatory I-918B certification.
For ten years, Carol lived in the United States without any legal status. She was afraid to return home because of the stigma and shame of what she had been forced to do. She was also afraid that the trafficker’s network in South Korea might find and hurt her.
In the summer of 2014, she came into my office. We talked about her case and it was clear to me that she could qualify for a T visa, which was created specifically for victims of human trafficking. She wasn’t sure if it was worth the time, effort, or money because she had already been denied so much. Thankfully, she allowed me to work on her case.
We filed the T visa application, but we received a Request for Evidence (RFE). USCIS wanted proof that she had cooperated, or at least hadn’t refused to cooperate, with the criminal case against her trafficker.
Unlike a U visa, a certification from law enforcement isn’t mandatory, but it is highly recommended. However, the applicant still has to show that she cooperated, or at least didn’t refuse to cooperate in the investigation.
I contacted the Atlanta ICE office to see if they could help. Since the raid happened in another state, they couldn’t. So I talked to the other ICE office. I was told that they would not sign the certification because they didn’t think Carol had done enough to assist them in the investigation.
In my response to the Request for Evidence, I explained that Carol had at least been helpful enough to ICE that they initially granted her Deferred Action. She also had a reason as to why she wasn’t more active in the investigation – she was scared, hurt, and uncertain who she could trust.
We knew it would be difficult to get the T visa approved without more proof that she had cooperated, but we did the best we could to explain what had happened ten years ago.
A month later, we received the T visa approval notification!
Carol now has lawful status for the next four years, and in three years she can apply for permanent residency. When she came into my office to pick up her work card, she was beside herself with joy. She was teary-eyed, but couldn’t stop smiling. I love it when that happens!
After two years of forced sex work, ten years in the United States without any legal status, empty promises from attorneys and immigration officials, it’s understandable why Carol had given up hope. She thought her case was impossible. Whatever small ray of hope she had when she hired me, though, lit the path for her new future. Together, we made the impossible possible.