Roughly 21 million people are currently forced into labor worldwide. While official estimates are difficult to make as to how many of these people are within the United States, reports from social service agencies across the country agree that victims likely number in the tens of thousands. Labor trafficking is widespread and pervasive, but the stories of those individuals trapped in forced labor situations are often untold. Some of these stories end badly and others drag cruelly onwards with no end in sight. There are stories that end with freedom, and hope, but a positive ending often depends on the involvement of legal aid organizations like LAF and its partners.
This particular story begins in 2009, when Rahul fled political persecution in India. Arriving in Chicago, and taking a job at an Indian grocery store, he was taken advantage of, his passport and immigration documents held hostage, and he was forced to work long hours with little pay. Rahul was at the mercy of his trafficker in all things: housing, wages, work hours, and, effectively, his life and well-being. The living conditions provided him were squalid, crowded, and dangerous. For over three years he was forced to work 6 days a week for shifts of 12 to 17 hours, through illness and severe back pain. He was paid well below minimum wage and, for a few months, paid nothing at all. Any attempt at liberating himself was actively attacked by his trafficker, who obstructed Rahul’s immigration case and threatened him with handguns.
Fortunately, Rahul found LAF. With an attorney’s representation, he applied for a visa, but the attorney understood that they would face a severe hurdle due to the fact that Rahul’s passport did not list his surname. This would both complicate his immigration case and subsequently be an impediment to getting him an Illinois driver’s license and social security card.
In October of 2015, Daniel Cotter, a partner at law firm Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd LLP as well as member of LAF’s Pro Bono Panel, volunteered to help Rahul obtain a name change to help move his immigration case forward smoothly. He prepared the necessary petitions and accompanied Rahul to court; Daniel’s representation led to a successful name change that may have been delayed otherwise. The judge even told Rahul and Daniel that he could sympathize with the situation, having been born abroad during WWII without a birth certificate. In an additional act of incredible generosity and human kindness, Butler Rubin paid for the cost of the case’s publication and three certified copies of Rahul’s name change.
Since his name change, Rahul’s immigration case has progressed without complication and, with LAF’s help, he has applied for both a social security card and an Illinois driver’s license. He is slowly but surely getting his life back.
There are an estimated 5.2 million people living in Cook County, and about 1.5 million of those people qualify for free legal aid. However, there are limited agencies with limited resources available to service those living in unlivable circumstances. LAF is the largest in the area, but even LAF was only able to serve about 15-20% of the people who reached out to the organization for assistance in 2015 – a rate mirrored by legal aid service providers throughout the United States. Pro Bono volunteers like Daniel help fill in that gap. The road to Rahul’s freedom from forced labor would have been very different if not for the dedication of Butler Rubin and the time, expertise, and support of Daniel. Their shared belief in law as a resource that should be available to all has unquestionably altered Rahul’s life for the better.
You can read more about Daniel’s victory for Rahul on Butler Rubin’s blog here. If you’re interested in volunteering with LAF to help clients like Rahul make better lives, you can sign up for our Pro Bono Panel here.
The First in LAF’s 2016 Brownbag Roundtable Series: Meet the LAF Housing Practice Group
The LAF Housing Practice Group has been doing pioneering work of late. Some cases have created headlines, like the win for Cabrini-Green residents that’s been covered across local news. Other cases are poised to be groundbreaking, involving civil rights issues like gender inequality and racial disparity that have just begun to garner long-deserved media attention. Even others are stories that never get told but have a significant impact on a person or family or community. Attorneys Dennericka Brooks, Neha Lall, Larry Wood, and Lizzie Rosenthal took time over lunch today to talk about the Housing Practice Group’s accomplishments and the trails they continue to blaze. “It’s an uphill battle,” said Dennericka, “but I’m ready to fight. We’re ready to fight.”
Often, LAF’s incredible work remains understated to all but the clients whose lives they’ve helped change for the better. By bringing back the Brownbag Roundtable Series, LAF has invited other attorneys and social service workers to engage with the organization’s day-to-day victories, its phenomenal staff, and gain further insight into the crucial public service legal aid is.
The Housing Practice Group is the first of this year’s series, and it was a powerful start. With four other practice groups and newly established medical-legal partnerships, there are plenty more thought-provoking ways to spend a lunch hour coming soon.
LAF is beyond grateful for the partnership it has forged with Sidley Austin LLP over the years. Sidley has long championed the fight for equal justice, and not just from the sidelines. LAF recently had the great fortune to work alongside Sidley attorneys on a landmark civil legal justice case. The team ensured that the rights of residents in the former Cabrini Green housing project were upheld by repeatedly taking the Chicago Housing Authority to court and holding them accountable to fulfill their legal obligations to build affordable housing units in the redevelopment of the old Chicago housing project.
Sidley was recently honored for their commitment to pro bono service when the 7th Circuit Bar Association presented the firm with its Pro Bono and Public Service Award for Outstanding Work in the District Courts of Illinois. This not the first time Sidley Austin has been recognized for its work with LAF and its clients. In May 2012, the Judges of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association presented Sidley Austin with its Award for Excellence In Pro Bono Service. This award recognized Sidley Austin’s representation of the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council in an earlier federal case challenging CHA’s illegal relocation of residents without providing proper notice, adequate alternative housing, and sufficient social services to aid in the relocation. Pictured here are members of LAF’s staff who attended the award ceremony to cheer on their teammates from the recent Cabrini litigation.
In addition to the outstanding pro bono partnership LAF has built with Sidley, members of the Sidley community have consistently stepped up over the years to be vocal ambassadors for our work and our clients. LAF has awarded its Champion for Justice award in recent years to both longtime supporter and former Managing Partner Charles W. Douglas, and Pro Bono Coordinator Richard O’Malley, Jr. Sidley partner Maja Eaton has been a die-hard member of the LAF Board of Directors, serving as Board president from June of 2013 to June of 2015. David Majors, a Senior Manager in Sidley’s Strategic Planning and Analysis practice was a founding member of the LAF Young Professionals Board and served as the 2014/15 YPB Co-Chair.
Most recently, Sidley once again led the charge in supporting LAF and legal aid in our community by increasing its annual financial contribution by 50% to $150,000 in 2016, to commemorate LAF’s 50th Anniversary and the firm’s 150th Anniversary. But even then, just increasing its own support was only part of their commitment to us – Managing Partner Larry Barden also sent a letter to the other Chicago law firms asking them to increase their support by 50% as well.
LAF, and the people we help, are extremely fortunate to have such steady and committed partners like the people at Sidley Austin LLP. We cannot thank them enough for their continued partnership and support.
Recently, Judge Robert Dow, a District Judge for the Seventh Circuit of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the court liaison to our William J. Hibbler Pro Se Assistance Program, along with Associate Judge Elizabeth Joskins Dow, of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit (Will County) in the Family Division, wrote a wonderful tribute to LAF and our 50th Anniversary. They published it in the The Circuit Rider, the Journal of the Seventh Circuit Bar Association, and generously excerpted it for us. You can read their Reflections here.
In it, they extol the work of legal aid providers like LAF, noting:
“legal aid services enhance the dignity and self-worth of clients, simply by giving individuals access to a lawyer who can help them navigate a complicated legal system. When clients obtain access to government benefits to which they are entitled, they sometimes can avoid dire circumstances, including homelessness and malnutrition. […] When clients find greater stability in their lives – whether through a job, access to health care, child support, an order of protection, or any other means – they often are better able to provide for themselves and less reliant on social services from the government or nonprofit providers such as Catholic Charities.”
We are deeply grateful for the Judges’ commendation, and urge you to read it for yourself to see how important LAF’s work is for our community.