By Marivir R. Montebon
(As the USCIS is gearing up for raids on immigration crackdowns, I write this piece with a nagging concern on getting a lawyer who has integrity and knowledge of what she or he is doing on behalf of trafficked clients, for the simple fact that clients should have value for their hard-earned money.
There are good and decent lawyers. But they are a rare species. And in the complex legal work on immigration, one has to take extra effort to find them.)
New York City – Just when people who are trafficked into prostitution or slavery are ready to seek the light, they could stumble again into one more minion of the devil…their own lawyer. There are times when the legal help they thought they have (and pay exorbitantly at that) is the very one who puts them into further misery.
It is bad enough that people are trafficked. Although real numbers are unknown, the US is a huge destination for trafficking of alien citizens, owing to the lure of the American dream, only to be trapped by recruiters. The USCIS allows a maximum of 5000 T visas per year for the relief of trafficked (alien) persons. From 2002 – 2014, government data show 3,269 T visas were approved.
But in the overall scheme of this huge invisible business of trafficking, many lawyers make their already unfortunate situation worse by sloppy paper work or outright deception, all for fast money.
Just like traffickers, there are lawyers who see money and not people. They do not have the heart or the scruples to consider the merits of one’s case or thoroughly go through the rigorous paper work of trafficked visa application. Be careful in choosing legal help.
In my work as writer for legal documents, I have come across an unbelievable number of denied cases of T visas of Filipinos in Washington DC, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Florida, Arizona, Arkansas, and California mainly because of inadequate presentation of pieces of evidence or worse, submitting a poorly written, copy-pasted narrative.
Any immigration officer reading a poorly written affidavit, with unchecked facts and missing appendices, for instance, could easily tell that the law firm handling the case is too shamefully lazy. Then he can choose to deny the application or seek for further evidence that would prolong the T visa application process. In both cases, the trafficked person suffers more.
One has to be aware too of lawyers who tread on getting clients from both the trafficked persons and the trafficker himself. This is the most dangerous of all lawyers.
Can you imagine a lawyer who professes to be an advocate of human rights and relentlessly accepting clients for T visas but on the other hand, is also handling immigration cases on behalf of a trafficker? For instance, a lawyer knows that the process of renewing work visas by clients which the trafficker has endorsed to him is wrong and illegal, yet he accepts these cases, jeopardizing further the people who have already been deceived by the trafficker.
Where is the integrity and ethics in the practice of the law profession here?
Worse, the same unethical lawyer makes a claim to fame in order to attract more immigration clients. He brags about a staggering number of successful cases that his law office has reunited families of trafficked persons. The hyperbolic statistics is intended to establish a name in immigration lawyering. But alas, that is a lie. T visa paperwork is long and tedious. An average size law firm with at least 8 dedicated staffers may painstakingly acquire two success cases per month, unless perhaps that firm is focused mainly on T visa services. The pace of success per case of human trafficking is not as fast as making ready-mix pancakes.
There are lawyers too who create not-for-profit institutions, masquerading as pro-bono service providers, but in practice use these institutions for tax exemption and to capture clients who they charge for legal services anyway. So much BS for the defense of human rights.
So again, I plead, do not be deceived. In the legal world, the word of mouth is still the best endorsement which clients can rely on.
It pains and angers me having known lawyers like these. And I will not grow tired telling people to be wise and cautious. There are lawyers who are as savage and money-hungry as traffickers are. (Featured photo is part of Candido Portinari’s War and Peace exhibit at the UN New York headquarters.)
There is no such thing as ‘free lunch’ even in the old days of New York. Get a copy of New York Hustle www.hardballpress.com