“I will never ever forget AI Justice, who has done everything to help me for over five years. They gave me hope. They gave me my life back.”
Name Withheld, Survivor of Trafficking
AI Justice’s Lucha Program has been recognized nationally and internationally since it began in 1997. Working closely with law enforcement officials, Lucha attorneys represent immigrant victims of human trafficking, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Attorneys successfully represent clients forced into modern slavery in high-profile cases, ranging from sexual slavery to indentured servitude in the fields of South Florida. The Lucha Program addresses the needs of immigrant victims, their children, and the community as a whole.
The legal representation that AI Justice provides is the critical bridge that brings victims to safety and independence. There is no right to free legal counsel in immigration proceedings. Without Lucha’s assistance, survivors would likely be forced to navigate the complex immigration system alone. Immigration status has profound consequences on a survivor’s ability to support their family and build a life. Without status, a survivor cannot work, open a bank account, or get a Florida driver’s license.
As a matter of social justice, Lucha seeks to ensure financial and economic stability for immigrant adults and children affected by violence through its holistic model. The Lucha Program seeks to strengthen the community by ensuring that immigrant victims are not afraid to report abuse and can become self-sufficient. With access to competent legal counsel, and the assistance of long-standing community partners, survivors will have more opportunities for employment and education, higher wages, better health and reduced rates of poverty. The immediate impact of legal assistance is that the victim can receive a work permit, which enhances independence and the ability to permanently leave the abuser. The community is safer when families know they will not be penalized for seeking help. Lucha helps break the cycle of poverty, violence and exploitation by making a brighter future possible for survivors and their children. With legal status, these children gain access to higher education, training for in-demand jobs and full participation in American society.
AI Justice’s culturally and linguistically diverse Lucha team confronts the challenges faced by immigrant survivors with a two-tiered approach: direct legal services and advocacy for system change. In 2018, the Lucha Program served 725 immigrant families affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking. AI Justice makes an impact on the national policies affecting survivors, playing an important role in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and serving as a founding member of the Freedom Network, an internationally-recognized coalition of anti-trafficking experts committed to fighting human trafficking. Additionally, AI Justice provides extensive consultation and technical assistance to other organizations and public entities on the local, state and national levels.
The Lucha program is led by AI Justice Deputy Director & Supervising Attorney Michelle Ortiz. An expert in the field, Ms. Ortiz is Secretary of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council of Greater Miami; Co- Chairs the Miami-Dade Coalition Against Human Trafficking; and represents AI Justice on the Steering Committee of the Freedom Network. Ms. Ortiz has testified on trafficking before the American Bar Association Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & Responsibilities; published an Op-Ed in the Huffington Post on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA); provided client stories to Congress in conjunction with advocacy on VAWA; and, in close collaboration with the South Florida Congressional delegation and national VAWA advocates, played an important role in VAWA’s recent reauthorization.