By Tanya Bush
Congress has special protections in the immigration law for noncitizens who are victims of trafficking. But despite the significant resources expended by the federal government to help find these victims, very few “T visas” are actually granted. In 2016, an annual quote of 5,000 T visas was available, yet the Department of Homeland Security only granted 1,736.
Safe Passage Project focuses our work on protecting immigrant youth who are in removal or deportation proceedings. This past month, Alexander Holtzman, an attorney and Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow at Safe Passage Project, successfully aided Fernando,* an immigrant from El Salvador, to secure derivative T-Visa status as the son of a trafficking victim. We recently met 13-year-old Fernando,* who entered the United States alone. Fleeing poverty, gang threat, violence, and recruitment, Fernando sought to be reunited with his mother in Long Island. Traveling on countless buses, cars, and boats through Guatemala and Mexico to reach her, Fernando was apprehended at the U.S. border, and detained by border patrol officials.
Fernando fled to the United States because he feared systematic gang violence and coercion. “It was a life or death situation,” he stated. He was arrested by US Customs and Border Protection agents, and like many other unaccompanied children, was put into removal proceedings, where he faced likely deportation. To prevent this dangerous outcome, the best solution for Fernando was derivative status under the T-Visa, a unique form of protection that was being offered to his mother. One of the main reasons people are afraid to come forward to testify against violent perpetrators is that they face threats of retributive violence. Congress created the T-Visa to redress that fear by conferring protective immigration status on certain eligible individuals. And Congress wisely allowed children of victims of trafficking to apply for a derivative T-Visa alongside their parent. Fernando and his mother visited several non-profits seeking pro bono representation and legal aid in obtaining the visa, but they were turned down several times.
In October 2016, Alexander Holtzman and Safe Passage Project took on Fernando’s case. After months of advocacy, the necessary waivers were obtained, and the derivative T-visa was granted. “Now that [Fernando] is qualified for Trafficking Protection, we will move to terminate his case in immigration court.” Holtzman states.
Safe Passage Project is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing pro bono representation of children facing immigration proceedings alone—providing training, resources, and mentoring to volunteer attorneys. Our organization fights for the rights of our clients, reuniting children with their guardians and helping young people navigate the complicated immigration system. Without Safe Passage Project, it is very likely that many children like Fernando would not find status and protection in the United States.
Derivative T-Visas promote family unity. While living in El Salvador, Fernando had worried about his mother and her tenuous situation in the United States. Like many women in the region, his mother had come to the U.S. in search of work—hoping to offer her children a better life and a more assured future. Now Fernando attends West Babylon Senior High School, living with his mother and studying. Fernando’s favorite subject is Spanish and he hopes to one day become a teacher.
Safe Passage Project is funded by donations and small grants. New York Law School generously provides extensive overhead support and facilities. The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island also provides free office space for the use of the Safe Passage Project team. Over one-half of the children facing deportation in the New York City immigration court live in Nassau or Suffolk counties on Long Island. There is no free legal aid inside the immigration court system. Please consider donating to support our mission. Your work can transform a life.
We are seeking to raise $50,000 before the end of the year and our Board has agreed to match those funds. Please donate today:
For more information on recognizing the signs of human trafficking click here.
*Name has been changed to protect client’s identity.