/ Blog Post
By Sabrina Talukder, 2014 Equal Justice Works Fellow, formerly hosted by The Legal Aid Society
As an Equal Justice Works Fellow working in The Legal Aid Society’s Domestic Violence-Immigration Unit, I identified and represented non-citizen survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking who were falling through the cracks of the criminal justice system. Additionally, I conducted outreach at Rikers Correctional Facility to identify non-citizen survivors, assisted in their criminal defense proceedings, and represented them and their families in their immigration matters.
Today, I continue to work in the same unit and specialize in representing non-citizen survivors of human trafficking in an affirmative and defense posture in their immigration-related matters. The work of immigration advocates can be difficult. I have advised countless survivors that they are likely to be denied immigration relief and deported if they come forward, although they lawfully qualify for immigration status based on their trafficking experiences. I have had to tell young children to prepare for the fact that mom or big brother may never come home. Although I can never quite articulate how devastating these moments are, it is my experience as an Equal Justice Works Fellow that has given me the tools and inspiration to stay in the trenches with and for my clients.
As a Fellow, I had to learn how to implement a comprehensive and creative strategy in an environment as hostile, unregulated, and dehumanizing as Rikers. My Fellowship also taught me that no matter how isolating my work can be, I am not alone. I learned to lean on my fellow Fellows across the country, who I continue to rely on to this day. My Fellowship also taught me to ask for help (which is annoyingly difficult for me to do) from those at Equal Justice Works, and for mental health services.
My most recent success is a case that is emblematic of the powerful impact of legal aid services. My client had been trafficked for decades in the United States, and had been ordered removed by an immigration judge years before I met her. She was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement when she went to clear her name of false charges by her trafficker, and was immediately detained and set to be deported. After identifying her as a human trafficking victim and filing her subsequent claims for relief in a matter of days, my team submitted a habeas petition in federal court based on an issue of first impression regarding her trafficking-based immigration application. Although there are still several hurdles to overcome in this case, the court granted her habeas petition, and she was able to return to her children. This case has also created a legal precedent to assist other post-order survivors of trafficking.
Many people ask me how I can continue to work for a heart-breaking cause. In my head, the answer to why I stay is complex. But, in my heart and conscience, it’s not. I choose to stay and take a stand because there is a call to serve. I stay because even though my client may lose, my advocacy can afford them some dignity in the process. They will know that they are worth fighting for in every way possible. Even if my client loses, their children will remember that there are Americans who still believe that the American Dream and the Constitution should be accessible to everyone—especially the hungry, the poor, and the tired.
At Equal Justice Works, we are proud of Sabrina’s contributions for improving access to justice for survivors of human trafficking. Learn more about how our other Fellow alums have created a lasting impact in their communities.
I choose to stay and take a stand because there is a call to serve.
Sabrina Talukder /
Equal Justice Works Fellow