Kilpatrick Townsend Secured T-Visa relief for a Korean client
Ji-min came to GAIN with a story all too familiar for many of our trafficking clients. In 2004, she was a nurse in South Korea until she fell into financial hardship. She had co-signed a loan for a friend who later abandoned her, and left Ji-min with a significant debt. While working in salons in South Korea to pay back this debt, Ji-min met a “broker,” a trafficking middleman that arranges employment for migrant workers, who said that he knew of better jobs in the United States. Ji-min still needed to pay money from the debt and agreed. Her broker sent her to Texas where she was told that she would work in a spa.
However, Ji-min never imagined the terrible circumstances that awaited her in Texas. She did not know that she would be forced to perform sexual acts in addition to massages until after she was trained. She asked to go home, but was told that she could not leave until she paid off her new debt to her broker. Furthermore, her broker threatened that without immigration status, she would be arrested. Ji-min was told that owed the spa for her travel expenses, room and board, make up, and clothes – she had no choice but to stay. At the end of the day, the spa owner would take all of the money Ji-min earned, and refuse to return Ji-min’s passport to her. With no possibility for escape or self-determination, Ji-min was truly enslaved.
Over the next nine years, Ji-min was transferred to several different spas. Each time she was transferred, many additional fees were added to her debt. Eventually, she arrived in Atlanta to work in yet another spa.
In 2013, Ji-min’s horrific working conditions finally came to an end. An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid revealed the unlawful activities of the spa, and rescued Ji-min from her traffickers. Due to her status as a victim of trafficking, Ji-min was able to secure immigration relief through pro bono representation with GAIN volunteer attorneys.
The Kilpatrick Townsend team that represented Ji-min was comprised of Attorneys Jamie Graham, Kathryn Isted, and Amy McCullough. The three worked tirelessly to apply for a T-visa for Ji-min, a form of relief for immigrant victims of human trafficking that provides work authorization, authorized stay in the United States for 4 years, and the eligibility to obtain a Green Card. In May, the attorneys were delighted to hear that Ji-min’s application was approved by USCIS.
Attorney Jamie Graham was acutely aware of the difference between representing a case for GAIN, and her typical legal work. Reflecting on her volunteer experience, Ms. Graham explains, “I prepare patent applications for highly successful scientists who have discovered life-saving pharmaceuticals, vaccines and diagnostic test. While the clients with whom I work are enthusiastic about their discoveries and thrilled when a patent is granted, they don’t reveal their emotions while describing the details of the project, never cry and certainly aren’t excited enough to hug their lawyers when the documents are finally drafted and ready for submission. The GAIN project exposed me to a whole new level of attorney service’.
For Attorney Amy McCullough, representing a T-visa case represented a professional accomplishment. Identifying human trafficking as an issue of great importance to her, Ms. McCullough was thrilled to volunteer with GAIN, explaining that “as a healthcare regulatory lawyer, although I volunteered at various organizations over the years in an effort to make a difference in this area, I never had an opportunity to use my legal skills to make an impact in a specific individual’s life in any way…This client’s T-visa case was the first trafficking case I worked on and the first time I felt that I was able to use my legal experience and knowledge to make an impact in someone’s life in a truly meaningful way.”
The attorneys also reflected on the strong personal reaction while working on this case. Ms. McCullough’s empathy stemmed from her shared Korean descent, sensing familiarity despite the client’s distinctly different experiences. Ms. McCullough explains that “because we were both Korean and I understood most of what she was saying without a translator, I felt an immediate emotional connection with her and, at times, felt as if I was helping a family member.” Ms. Graham also felt the impact of the experience on an emotional level; “Everyone involved in this project felt our client’s pain as we gathered more and more information on one example of human tragedy that happens all around us without our knowledge. Then we had the pleasure of sharing her tears of joy when the process was behind us. Not only were we enlightened, but many lives were changed around our conference room table.”
GAIN is eternally grateful for the help and support offered by the Kilpatrick Townsend team, and joins them in celebrating the successful approval of their client’s T-visa application!