Human Trafficking Legal Assistance Program

Ascentria provides immigration legal services, advocacy, and case management services to human trafficking survivors in Massachusetts.  Since 2008, Ascentria has been on the cutting edge of advocacy for human trafficking survivors in Massachusetts.  In 2012, Ascentria founded the Human Trafficking Clinic at Boston University School of Law that allows law students to represent human trafficking victims with attorney supervision.  In addition, Ascentria Attorney Julie Dahlstrom is a member of the Massachusetts Human Trafficking Task Force and co-chair of the Victim Services Subcommitee.  

Ascentria recently collaborated with WilmerHale and the Attorney General's Office to author the first manual for attorneys who are representing human trafficking victims in Massachusetts. Click here to read more about the manual.

Who is a survivor of human trafficking?

Human trafficking involves individuals of all ages, who may be subject to sexual or labor exploitation as a result of being tricked, lured, coerced, or forced into a vulnerable situation by traffickers.

Federal law, through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, defines trafficking as:
(1)“Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age;” or

(2) “[T]he recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”
 
Human trafficking comes in a variety of forms and may be difficult to distinguish. It may include individuals involved in prostitution, exotic dancing, domestic servitude, sweatshops, begging and/or agricultural work.
 
For which benefits may survivors qualify?

In 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act providing protection to immigrant victims of trafficking. This law provides survivors a means to qualify for a T visa to remain in the United States and to have a path to legal residency. It also allows survivors certified by the federal government to qualify for certain public benefits.  In 2011, Massachusetts also passed human trafficking legislation that increased the criminal penalties for human trafficking crimes and provided greater protections to survivors.

However, many survivors cannot take advantage of this legislation without legal assistance. Survivors of trafficking may face a variety of barriers, including language, mental health, and other concerns, that prevent them from leaving the trafficking situation and seeking help. Many are fearful and hesitant to engage with law enforcement for fear of deportation and reprisal from traffickers.

What does Ascentria do?

Ascentria provides confidential legal services and other types of support to survivors of human trafficking, including:

Pro bono legal advice and representation, including assistance to noncitizen survivors of human trafficking applying for a T Visa.
• Comprehensive case management services;
• Employment services;
• English as a Second Language classes and educational programs;
• Referrals to community-based organizations.
 
What is a T visa?

In passing the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, Congress created a new category of nonimmigrant visa called the T visa for survivors of human trafficking. The benefits of the T visa include:

• Ability to remain in the United States legally
• Authorization to work
• Pathway to lawful permanent residency (“green card”)
• Ability to apply for certain family members to join the survivor in the United States
• Eligibility for certain medical and public benefits

Eligibility for a T Visa?

To qualify for a T visa, survivors of human trafficking must show that they:

• Are (or have been) a victim of a severe form of human trafficking
• Would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if removed from the United States
• Are physically present in the United States because of human trafficking
• Have complied with a reasonable request for assistance in the investigation or prosecution of the perpetrator from federal law enforcement (if 18 or older)
 
How does the legal program assist survivors?
 
Our attorneys meet intensively with survivors to provide them with legal advice and representation in their immigration case. This often involves assisting the client to apply for a T visa as a victim of human trafficking. If so, our attorneys work with survivors to liase with federal law enforcement investigating the trafficking incident and to apply for the T visa with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Our program also provides survivors with comprehensive case management services throughout the legal process.

How do I report suspected trafficking?

If you believe that someone is a victim of human trafficking, please contact LSS at 508-754-1121 ext. 408, or infolegal@ascentria.org.  You can also call the the Federal Trafficking and Referral Hotline at 888-373-7888. If you believe that the survivor may be in imminent danger, please call 911.

How do I make an appointment or refer a potential survivor for services?

For legal advice and services, please contact our program at 508-754-1121, ext. 408, or infolegal@ascentria.org.