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Seyfarth Lawyer Helps Secure Citizenship for Child Made Slave in Calif. Suburbs
The American Lawyer
After more than 30 years of practicing immigration law, Seyfarth Shaw partner Angelo Paparelli knows that the key to resolving many of the cases he handles lies in finding a quirk in the law, an obscure statute that opens a loophole and allows his client to gain the citizenship status they're seeking.
No tricks were required, however, in a recent pro bono case Paparelli took on for a client whose story, even before the two met, was familiar to him and many others.
That story was the almost unreal tale of Shyima Hall, an Egyptian-born girl who was 9 years old when her parents sold her to a wealthy Egyptian couple. A year later, the couple moved to California with their five children, bringing Hall along and forcing her to do all the family's chores while living in a garage without heat, air conditioning or windows, where she slept on a dirty mattress and washed her clothes in a bucket. School was not an option, and neither was learning English.
Three years later, in 2002, someone notified local police that a child appeared to be living in the couple's home under suspicious conditions. Hall was soon removed from the home and brought to a local orphanage. Later, she lived in several different foster homes.
The couple, Amal Motelib and Nasser Ibrahim, pleaded guilty in 2006 to federal charges that included forced labor and slavery. Ibrahim was sentenced to three years in prison; his wife got 22 months. The couple was also ordered to pay Shyima $76,000 and to be deported once their prison terms ended.
Paparelli was 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 learned about Hall and her need for pro bono legal help in order to become a naturalized citizen.
As Paparelli tells it, securing Hall's citizenship turned out to be quite simple. She already had what is known as a special immigrant juvenile green card (though Paparelli says he still hasn't figured out who helped her gain that status). The next step for Paparelli was to help Hall apply for naturalized citizen status. Her spotless record and good moral character eased the process further, he says, and she had no problem passing the English, history and civics tests.
Paparelli says he met with Hall, now 22, a handful of times over the course of 11 months, including treating her to a celebratory lunch at Bottega Louie in downtown Los Angeles after her swearing-in ceremony on Dec. 15.
"She's very spirited, very smart, and brave," Paparelli says. "And not bitter in the least. She really is in the present moment, and wants to go forward, and wants to help other people."
In many cases, Paparelli says he must battle with immigration officials. That wasn't true in this instance, in part because Hall has worked with ICE for several years, speaking at events about her experience and the dangers of human trafficking.
"Not many trafficking victims are courageous enough to step up," Paparelli says. "They had every interest to want to help her. And because she is a good spokesperson, that reflects well on them."
For Paparelli, the case is one of many successes he's had throughout his career. Initially a tax lawyer in Michigan, he tired of that around 1980 and sought a new practice area of federal law "that covers a wide turf." He found what he was looking for in immigration work, and "ever since, I've been hooked."
It's a practice area that requires lawyers to get deeply personal with their clients, Paparelli says, and as he wrote in a recent blog post, requires an appreciation for telling stories. "Because if you probe deeply enough," Paparelli says, "you may find the unusual fact that changes everything."
In the case of Shyima Hall, he didn't have to probe too deeply -- and he was still able to help his client achieve a significant milestone.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.