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.