After more than 30 years of practicing immigration law, Seyfarth Shaw’s partner Angelo Paparelli knows that the key to trying to resolving many of the cases that he handles lies in finding a quirk in the law, like an obscure statute that opens a loophole and allows his client to gain the citizenship status they’re seeking.
However, no tricks were use in a recent pro bono case that Paparelli took on for a client whose story that even before the two ever met, was familiar to him as well as many others.
The story was the one of the almost unreal tale of Shyima Hall, who is an Egyptian-born girl who was only nine years old when her parents sold her to a wealthy Egyptian couple. Only a year later, the couple moved to California with their other five children, bringing Hall along with them, and forcing her to do all of the family’s chores while they had her living in the garage without any heat, air conditioning, or windows. The girl had to sleep on a filthy mattress and wash what little clothes she had in a bucket. School was not an option for Hall, and neither was learning English.
Three years later, in 2002, a generous soul notified the police that a child appeared to be living in the couple’s home under very suspicious conditions. Hall was quickly removed from her awful living situation and brought to an orphanage. She later lived in several different foster homes.
The couple, Amal Motelib and Nasser Ibrahim, pleaded guilty back in 2006 to the federal charges that included forced labor and slavery. Ibrahim was sentenced to three years in prison, his wife only got 22 months. The couple was also ordered to pay Hall $76,000 and to be deported once their prison terms ended.
Paparelli was first introduced to Hall’s predicament last February, when, on a trip to see an old friend at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Orange County, he had learned all about Hall and her need for a pro bono legal help in order to become a naturalized citizen.
Paparelli says that securing Hall’s citizenship was actually quite easy because of her special immigrant juvenile green card, her spotless record, and her moral character. She also had no problem passing her English, History, and Civics tests.
Paparelli says that he has met with Hall, now 22, a few times over the course of 11 months and that he made sure to treat her a celebratory lunch after her swearing-in ceremony on December 15.
”She’s very spirited, very smart, and brave,” says Paparelli. ”And not bitter in the least. She really is in the present moment, and wants to go forward, and wants to help other people.”