Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Policy Initiative Director of Federal Policy
For the better part of a decade, Sabrina Talukder has used her legal background and has embraced her compassion for underserved communities to represent immigrant survivors at the intersection of their criminal and immigration jurisdictional proceedings. She now brings that to bear as the co-director of the Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Policy Initiative at LMU Loyola Law School.
As the daughter of immigrant parents, Talukder grew up with a certain perspective about how fortunate she was to be the first in her family to have opportunities and choices. With her upbringing and formal legal studies at the University of Virginia School of Law, Talukder became inspired to work with marginalized individuals and communities when they are at their most vulnerable point in overlapping enforcement systems.
Upon graduating law school, Talukder accepted a fellowship with The Legal Aid Society in New York that enabled her to work out of Rikers Correctional Facility and represent immigrant survivors of human trafficking and domestic abuse. After completing the fellowship, Talukder continued working for The Legal Aid Society, first as a staff attorney and later as an immigration & trafficking specialist.
“The greatest honor of my life has been working directly with communities,” said Talukder. “I think that’s the most important thing that I can bring — not just to the students of LLS, but to the policy reform work that we’ll do. I hope that my experience as an advocate will directly make the policy reforms that we do meaningful on a daily level to the survivors that we have the honor of representing.”
Through direct representation, community outreach and program implementation, Talukder has showcased a strong determination and ability to champion immigrants’ rights. She designed the first immigration practice in a public defender unit to represent non-citizens charged with prostitution or trafficking-related offenses upon arrest; she played an instrumental role in passing the Survivors of Trafficking Attaining Relief Together (START) Act, which broadened relief for trafficking victims who possessed criminal records due to crimes they were exploited to commit; and she served as lead counsel for scores of immigrant survivors, including the case of SNC v. Sessions.
Humbled by her experience representing immigrant survivors of trafficking and domestic violence abuse, Talukder comes into her role as Federal Policy Director of the Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Initiative with a strong desire to lift the collective voices of those impacted in order to change the narrative of anti-human trafficking policy reform. Splitting time between Los Angeles and Washington D.C., Talukder looks to amplify the voices of human trafficking survivors who have been overlooked and bring their stories to the forefront of a new intersectional approach to anti-trafficking.
“The initiative will focus on preventing human trafficking from an intersectional approach, by focusing on climate justice, racial justice, immigrant, justice and economic justice for survivors as well as holding government actors accountable,” said Talukder. “I also truly believe that the best policy comes from a dual mentorship of not just attorneys mentoring survivors and their clients, but with survivors mentoring us on what their priorities are, how they want their narratives to be communicated to people in power and how it’s our role to ensure that they have that seat at the table.”
Working at the cross-section of criminal justice and immigration has shown Talukder the sheer impossibility of many survivors’ circumstances. These circumstances have become even more widespread under the economic uncertainty imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as more at-risk individuals turn to the informal economy to stay afloat. With sex work more mainstream than ever, Talukder is happy to see the enhanced understanding that’s coming from the growing distinction between human trafficking and the sex work community. Talukder believes that decriminalization of sex work should play an important role in the anti-trafficking narrative and that recognizing its merits is critical to assess what is penalized, who it impacts and why.
In collaboration with the LLS' Rights in Systems Enforced (RISE) Clinic, Talukder works to advance the Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Policy Initiative as part of a larger progressive anti-violence movement focused on survivor empowerment against individual and state perpetrated violence. By foregrounding survivor voices, whose victimization may be complicated by their own criminality due to race and gender-based subordination, the organizations oppose punitive legal regimes and seek system transformation through survivor rights representation.
“I hope that we’ll be able to push the needle on a national and state level on what it means to be a survivor of trafficking and that we’re able to fill the gaps in policy initiatives to have a comprehensive and holistic understanding of trafficking and trafficking prevention as intersectional,” Talukder expressed. “Ultimately, we want to push the needle towards making the world safer and more equitable for vulnerable communities.”