Q & A — Attorney Sarah Yanez on Human Trafficking

Sarah Yanez, Community Legal Aid SoCal Immigration Attorney,Medium shot of Sarah Yanez, CLA SoCal immigration attorney answers questions about the program’s work for survivors of human trafficking.

Question 1: When did CLA SoCal start working on trafficking cases and how long have you been working on them?

The immigration department of CLA SoCal saw its first human trafficking case in February of 2018. Shortly after, our organization received a grant from the Department of Justice’s Equal Justice Works program to help victims of human trafficking in all areas of law including criminal expungement, family law matters, and immigration.

I took our organization’s first human trafficking case in 2018. I ultimately filed a T-Visa for my client who is a labor trafficking survivor. She was recruited as a domestic worker by an American couple from her home country. They promised her a good paying job, regular work hours, free room and board, and promised to cover the cost of her visa.

When she arrived in the United States and began working with the couple, the job turned out to be far different from what the contract detailed. She had more job duties, had no days off, was paid in her home country’s currency, and was even indebted to the couple for the costs of her food, room, and visa process.

I filed a complaint with the Department of Labor and obtained a T certification from them confirming that my client was indeed a victim of labor trafficking. I subsequently filed a T visa with the United States Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS). Her case is still pending.

Question 2: What is the breakdown of the cases you see? Trafficking for sex, trafficking for labor?

Our caseload in the area of trafficking is made up of 50% labor trafficking and 50% sex trafficking.

Question 3: What is the most challenging about working on trafficking cases?

The most challenging part of working on trafficking cases is learning about the horrific details of what these survivors have been through. It is knowing that people are out there suffering at the hands of other people and often children are preyed upon by these wicked people.

Question 4: What positive impact have you seen as a result of successful advocacy for a survivor of trafficking?

I have seen people gain the confidence to start taking back control of their lives. It could be regaining custody of their children, obtaining a divorce, obtaining a name change or applying for legal status in the United States. It could also be obtaining an expungement so that a person can have better job opportunities. In labor trafficking cases I have seen people obtain monetary compensation for their past work.

Question 5: How and what do you find rewarding about helping survivors of trafficking?

The most rewarding part is to see my clients free–free of their trafficking situations and of their oppressors. The difference can often be seen physically from the demeanor of a person at the outset of a case versus at the end when a positive outcome is realized. It is very rewarding to have assisted a person in a way that will change their life so dramatically for the better.

Question 6: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

It is important to say that it really is a community effort. There are several great organizations that offer other types of resources outside of legal advocacy. If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, there are several agencies that can help. The following are a few:

The National Trafficking Hotline (24 hours/ 7 days): 1 (888) 373-7888

The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) Emergency hotline (24 hours/ 7 days): 1 (888) 539-2373

The Salvation Army Anti-Trafficking Office in Orange County: 1 (714) 789-2352