The Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN) presented a series of awards at its “holiday volunteer appreciation party” on Dec. 12 recognizing the work of individuals and law firms on behalf of asylum seekers and immigrant victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault.
The event drew more than 60 supporters of the organization to the law offices of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan LLP in Midtown.
Honors were accorded to McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP as the law firm of the year; Elizabeth W. Vaughan, Alston & Bird LLP, attorney of the year; Eli A. Echols, Socheat Chea PC, mentor of the year; Debbie Segal, Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton LLP, partner of the year.
Cheryl Naja, director of pro bono and community service at Alston & Bird, received the William E. Hoffmann Service Award named in honor of the full-time pro bono attorney at King & Spalding LLP.
GAIN was founded in 2005 as the Atlanta Bar Asylum Project, a loose affiliation among the leadership of the Atlanta Bar Association, Catholic Charities, and a handful of associates from several Atlanta law firms.
According to GAIN, Atlanta is one of the top 15 cities nationwide for human trafficking and its victims, if arrested, often find themselves in legal limbo. The organization works on a wide variety of cases dealing with victims facing “force, fraud or coercion.”
In the past, victims coming to Atlanta have included young women from Mexico, Central America and Korea who have been brought here for prostitution, Monica Modi Khant, GAIN’s executive director, told Global Atlanta.
“For me personally, I consider the work important because we help minority populations access justice for crimes committed against them,” Ms. Khant said. “If they can obtain immigration status that opens a lot of doors to them.”
The organization provides direct legal representation to individuals seeking asylum. It also trains attorneys representing pro bono clients in the nuances of implementing relevant visas.
More than 20 McKenna Long attorneys have been trained to deal with these cases and during 2012 have been assisting woman in four cases to obtain visas so they could remain in the U.S.
Summer Chandler, a partner at McKenna Long, told Global Atlanta that many of those caught in the web of human trafficking come to the U.S. as domestic workers who have been promised access to education or other benefits of living here.
“Once they get here they may find themselves captive in a home with long hours of work and little or no pay,” she said.
She also said that undocumented workers who enter the U.S. and then find themselves in violent domestic situations often feel isolated and are too fearful to go to an authority for help.
Ms. Vaughan was honored for having taken on a difficlt abuse case and then perservering when the victim and her children moved to Florida. Mr. Echols, an immigration attorney, was cited for his expertise, which he shared with GAIN’s staff that often has as many as 100 cases to deal with. Despite being a partner at her firm, Ms. Segal took on cases. Ms. Naja is a board veteran who was honored for her activism on behalf of the organization.
Among the relevant visas are T-visas, which allow certain victims of human trafficking and immediate family members to remain and work temporarily in the U.S. if they agree to assist in testifying against the perpetrators.
U-visas provide victims of certain crimes temporary legal status and work eligibility in the U.S. for up to four years. The U-visa is not for immigrants, however, and only 10,000 may be issued in a fiscal year.
The attorneys also may seek redress through VAWA, or the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, providing funds toward the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women.
The organization’s board of directors include representatives of the following law firms: Alston & Bird, Carroll & Weiss LLP, Greenberg Traurig LLP, Jones Day, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, King & Spalding LLP, Law Offices of Socheat Chen, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Steward PC, Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, The Antonini Law Firm and Troutman Sanders LLP.
Representatives of the accounting and advisory firms McGladrey LLP and Smith & Howard PC also are on the board as are representatives from the brokerage firm JP Turner & Company LLC.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Atlanta Bar Association, the North American South Asian Bar Association and the National Association of Asian American Professionals are represented. AT&T Inc. and the Washington-based advocacy group Equal Justice Works have provided funding to the organization.
To learn more about GAIN, click here.