This year, we’re celebrating LAF’s 50th anniversary! To wrap up our big year, we’re celebrating our outstanding staff and volunteers. Keep up with our blog throughout the month of December to get a look at some of the dedicated people who make up LAF and all that it stands for.
“Without a safety net to rely on if something goes wrong, your life can become very chaotic and start to unravel,” says Amy Martin, a Staff Attorney in LAF’s Immigrants and Workers’ Rights Practice Group. “LAF helps maintain a safety net for individuals and families in difficult situations – whether it’s representing a domestic violence survivor seeking protection, defending low wage workers experiencing wage theft or other workplace abuse, preventing an eviction that would result in homelessness, or preventing the loss of public benefits or utility services that keep families afloat. These are just a few examples.”
She recalls a married couple she worked with who came to the US with temporary visas. They accepted jobs at a local restaurant under their employer’s false promise to help them obtain permanent citizenship. For several months, they worked long hours for almost nothing, experienced constant threats and verbal abuse, and were forced to live in a crowded, dirty apartment with other workers from the restaurant. They felt trapped because their employer had taken their passport and other immigrant documents. As the expiration of their temporary visas drew closer, their anxiety levels intensified. When the husband ultimately confronted their employer, he was badly assaulted. With LAF on their side, they were able to obtain visas allowing them to remain in the U.S. legally and eventually pursue a green card. LAF also helped them report the trafficking crime to law enforcement and connect them with a pro bono attorney to pursue a case for civil damages.
“It was a very traumatic situation for them, but because we were able to get them legal status, they’ve become a lot more stable. They’ve been able to access health insurance, find work and permanent housing, and now have the means to better care for their young daughter, Amy says. Their legal status also empowered them to work with law enforcement in its investigation of their trafficker, thereby supporting nationwide efforts to combat human trafficking. Even with dedicated attorneys like Amy on the case, Cook County remains a national hub for human trafficking, including both U.S. citizen and foreign national victims. With the added uncertainty surrounding immigration policy in the years to come, LAF’s immigrant clients may face even greater challenges. “There’s a lot of fear out there right now and a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen… We’re moving forward with our cases and telling clients that we just have to wait and see what happens. But it’s hard—it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Individual contributions enable LAF attorneys to fight for exploited immigrants and migrant workers, providing some stability to those who need it most. Make your tax-deductible donation for 2016 to LAF at www.lafchicago.org.