Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Human Trafficking Law Clinic: What do We do?

The University of Michigan Law School’sHuman Trafficking Clinic (HTC) was established in 2009 by Clinical Law Professor and Director Bridgette Carr. HTC has three faculty members (Carr, Suellyn Scarnecchia, and Elizabeth Campbell). We are licensed attorneys who supervise student attorneys. The law school pays us to teach our students through our cases and the students receive law school credit for their work. So, we are able to provide free legal services. All of our clients are victims of human trafficking.

HTC usually has about 65 clients at any given time. Some of our clients stay with us for several years because they have a variety of legal needs. Many of our clients are referred to us by law enforcement officers who discover victims when they are investigating traffickers and from the Polaris Project’s National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline. We also receive referrals from prosecutors, foster care agencies, and domestic violence/sexual assault service providers. We can take client referrals from any source. Our clients are foreign nationals from all over the world and U.S. citizens from all over the nation. They are adults and minors, male and female, and they have experienced labor and/or sex trafficking.

Our goal for each client is to provide him or her with comprehensive legal services for the legal problems that stem from the trafficking. Our clients often need a variety of legal services and we try to provide them all or we find another attorney to help them. Here are some of the ways we help clients:
  •  Advocate for a victim-centered approach to a criminal investigation and prosecution, to try to avoid re-victimizing clients in the criminal justice system and to seek restitution; 
  • Apply for temporary and permanent legal immigration status for clients and their families, including visas to bring relatives to the U.S. to reunify clients with their families;  
  • Apply to set aside criminal convictions that arose from the trafficking;Apply for services and benefits that are available to victims;
  • Handle family, housing, consumer, and tax law issues;
  • Locate an attorney to file a civil case against the trafficker(s); and 
  • Assist a client who wishes to “go public” with his/her story to navigate the media, legal system, and other public challenges.

This work requires us to understand the trauma many of our clients have experienced and to represent them in a trauma-informed manner. It also requires us to work in cooperation with many other professionals and volunteers in the client’s life to maximize each client’s chance for a better life after escaping and surviving human trafficking. Finally, we look out for our students’ and our own reactions to our clients’ experiences for signs of secondary trauma and teach best practices for healthy practitioners in this and related fields.

Take Action:  If you or someone you know wishes to contact HTC for legal advice and/or possible representation, please call 734-615-3600.

Suellyn Scarnecchia is a Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.