January 8, 2019
In December 2018, four former employees of a poultry plant in Mississippi received lawful immigration status and reunited with family members through the direct advocacy efforts of Immigration Law Clinic students.
Former clinic students Vallerye Anderson, '15, and Cristina Andrade,'14, traveled to Morton, Miss. in June 2013 to provide free immigration legal services to migrant workers who had been harassed, assaulted, and discriminated against by their employer, Koch Foods, one of the largest poultry processors in the world.
"I am exhilarated that our clients are now able to live without the fear of being deported and can just focus on their families and daily lives," said Anderson, who currently practices immigration law in Sacramento.
When the National Employment Law Project reached out to McGeorge Law School five years ago to participate in a nationwide effort to assist more than 100 immigrant workers who needed legal assistance, Immigration Clinic supervising attorney Blake Nordahl immediately flew down to Mississippi with Anderson and Andrade to interview former employees.
"As public interest lawyers, we have a responsibility to provide quality representation to the most vulnerable in our society—in this case undocumented factory workers who were being abused largely because they were Hispanic," said Professor Nordahl. "The opportunity to collaborate with social justice advocates across America was an invaluable learning experience for McGeorge students."
Lawsuits later filed by poultry farm workers and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged that Koch Foods subjected Hispanic employees and female employees to a hostile work environment and disparate treatment based on their race/national origin and sex, and then retaliated against those who complained. Workers stated that supervisors touched and/or made sexually suggestive comments to female Hispanic employees, hit Hispanic employees and charged many of them money for normal everyday activities at work, such as using bathrooms, taking leave, or requesting job transfers.
After initial consultations, the clinic students determined the employees were eligible for U Visas, issued to victims of qualifying crimes who have suffered substantial harm. Congress created the U visa to help ensure survivors of crime come forward and report crimes without fear of immigration consequences. The individual must be willing to cooperate with law enforcement and must not be in lawful status at the time of their application. Each of the Mississippi workers represented suffered horrendous abuse at their place of work and cooperated in a federal investigation initiated by the EEOC. Under Nordahl's supervision, clinic students conducted interviews, prepared detailed declarations, gathered supporting evidence to prepare and submit U visa applications for the four clients, their spouses and their minor children.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services only issues 10,000 U visas a year as designated by Congress for victims of violent crimes. The process for a U visa takes several years since there are more applications filed each year than there are visas available. Third year clinic student Eduardo Medina helped process the overseas visa applications for the last remaining family members of clients which were approved this past December. The last immediate family members will be flying in to the United States later this month to reunite after almost a decade of separation.
In the related federal lawsuit, last year Koch Foods agreed to pay $3.75 million to settle the class employment discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC.