The Los Angeles Times carries this heartfelt story of Shyima Hall, who, nine years ago, was removed from a home in Irvine’s North Park neighborhood after a concerned neighbor tipped off authorities about her. As it turned out, the girl was held as a virtual slave, having been sold by her family for $30 a month to an Egyptian-American family who kept her out of school and used her as a servent all for a dollar a day. There were reports at the time that Hall slept in squalor in the family’s unairconditioned garage and could not use the bathroom.
The story shocked neighbors in Northpark, where former State Senator Dick Ackerman makes his home, and Northwood and Northwood Pointe neighborhoods. Human trafficking going on right in these neighborhoods and it was well hidden.
Hall’s story has a positive outcome; she’s now an American citizen and lives in Riverside County where she is considering going to college or applying to the police force with a goal of becoming an ICE agent to help victims of human trafficking. She’s been a model citizen assisting law enforcement specialists understand the impact of human trafficking on the person enslaved. She speaks out on the subject often.
From the Time’s story:
“I went through something terrible, but right now I’m in a great place,” Hall said after Thursday’s citizenship ceremony at the Quiet Cannon Country Club. “I can’t imagine anything greater than having my own life.”
Hall’s Egyptian parents sold her into slavery when she was 8 for $30 a month, according to authorities. The Cairo couple who bought her moved to Irvine two years later, smuggling Hall into the U.S. where she toiled for them and their five children until she was 13.
Hall said she worked 16 hour days, scrubbing floors, cooking meals and cleaning house, and was rarely allowed outside the spacious home. She was forced to wash her own clothes in a bucket and was forbidden from going to school. She never visited a doctor or dentist and didn’t speak a word of English.
Her captors, Abdel Nasser Eid Youssef Ibrahim and his former wife, Amal Ahmed Ewis-abd Motelib, berated her and occasionally slapped her around, authorities said.
“I didn’t know anything about what America was about. My only hope was to go back home and live a normal life with my family, my brothers and sisters,” she said. “That’s all I wanted.”
In 2002, acting on a tip from a concerned neighbor, child welfare authorities rescued her from the house. Her case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, leading to the prosecution, federal imprisonment and, later, deportation of Ibrahim and Motelib.
Hall formed a tight bond with one of the lead federal agents, Mark Abend of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, who has served as a friend and mentor. He was at Hall’s citizenship ceremony Thursday.
“I’m really proud of her. Think of everything she’s been through. Being sold into slavery at an early age. Coming over here. Not having a family,” Abend said. “The resiliency she has is just amazing. The fortitude. Not falling apart. Not being a destroyed soul.”
Abend remembers interviewing Hall, then 13, with the help of an Arabic interpreter for the first time when she was being cared for at the Orangewood Children’s Home in Orange. Her captors told her to never speak to police, that officers would beat her. She stayed tight-lipped until she was allowed to call her parents in Egypt, and her father ordered her to go back with her captors.
“That’s when I saw a spark,” Abend said. “She stood up to her dad. She said, ‘No! This is not right. What they did to me was not right. You sold me into slavery.’”
Missing from the Times story is the fate of the family that kept her as a slave. What sort of punishment fit the crime?
The Times story quotes US State Department officials estimating that there are 12 million people in some form of slavery worldwide. The only question I have is why did it take so long to offer this young woman the ability to become a US citizen? She was rescued in 2002; it’ll be 2012 in a couple of weeks.
When the debate on immigration reform always seems to center of undocumented immigrants from Mexico, people tend to forget that there are other people from all over the world who seek to be a part of this country. The process for converting immigrants into productive American citizens needs to be accelerated.
And the story should serve as a notice to the community; if you see something that doesn’t seem right, make an inquiry. Tell someone. Who knows what would have happened to Hall without that initial phone call from a neighbor who cared.
(photo courtesy of the LA Times)