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It has been 11 years since CCH (name concealed to protect the victim’s identity) saw her two older children. Trafficked into the U.S. by her brother-in-law, she stayed captive in his house, scrubbing floors, babysitting, cooking, doing dishes, and performing a host of other activities for a meager $80 a week.
“I was not allowed to answer the door or any calls,” she says, her eyes welling up. “I was completely disconnected from the world and had no one to run to.”
She had no idea what visa she was on or her legal status in the United States. “My brother-in-law told me he had all the paperwork taken care of,” she recalls. “And I needed the money to send back home.”
Some distant relatives came to her rescue, and after multiple odd jobs, she found stable employment at a local café. Finally, she also sought the help of Catholic Charities. “I had brought my youngest baby—my 5-year-old asthmatic son—illegally into this country and I needed help,” she says, breaking down once again.
The relief organization referred her to the Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center, a part of SCU’s law school. The center provides pro bono advice and representation in several areas including workers’ rights, consumer rights and immigration rights.
In 2009, the center, as lead agency on behalf of the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking, received a $300,000 two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to help victims of human trafficking, a little-known but persistent problem in the South Bay area.
Lynette Parker, supervising attorney for immigration, oversees law students as they perform background research; interview clients; prepare forms, declarations, and briefs; accompany clients in law enforcement interviews; and work with the clients’ case managers.
“In law school, the focus is on Socratic thinking,” says Parker. “When they come here and get immersed in an emotional situation, it’s challenging for them. These are not simulations … these are real-life situations.”
With the help of Parker and SCU’s law students, CCH now has a T-visa that grants her work authorization for four years; her youngest son also has a T-visa. In three years she and her son will be able to apply for permanent residency.
It’s by working on such cases that students realize what a difference they can make in someone’s life—and how privileged their own lives are.
“Sometimes it’s hard to come home and leave the client’s problems at the clinic,” says law student Mina Ciurea ’11. “It’s hard to cope with the fact that these people go through such trauma and I have such a sheltered life here.”