Archive for January 13th, 2012

Sold Into Slavery As a Girl, Shyima Hall Becomes a U.S. Citizen

By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times

A decade ago, Shyima Hall was smuggled into the United States as a 10-year-old slave, forced to cook and clean inside the home of a wealthy Irvine family and, at night, sleep on a squalid mattress in a windowless garage.

On Thursday, the Egyptian-born 22-year-old stood before a federal judge in Montebello with nearly 900 others and was sworn in as naturalized U.S. citizen. The ceremony capped a hard-scrabble journey that began with Hall’s rescue, wound through the foster care system and ended with her living on her own, working, and with ambitions to become a federal agent.

“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.'”

At 13, Hall decided that she wanted to stay in the U.S. She hasn’t returned to Egypt or seen her family.

In recent years, Hall has spoken to groups across the country about combating human trafficking. She’s briefed ICE agents about the emotional and physical trauma victims face.

In 2010-11, federal immigration officials launched 651 investigations into human trafficking, arresting 300 people. According to the U.S. State Department, there are more than 12 million people entrapped in some form of slavery worldwide.

Hall said her dream now is to become a federal agent for ICE to help crack down on human trafficking and free the enslaved.

“That’s my top goal,” Hall said. “I’ve been through it. I know I can help.”

Los Angeles immigration attorney Angelo Paparelli, who represented Hall pro bono, said that her citizenship application was filed under a special provision for juvenile immigrants and that county officials from the outset supported her decision to stay in the U.S.

“She has literally gone through a living hell, and now she wants to give back,” said Paparelli, of the national law firm Seyfarth Shaw. “She’s there to give other people courage.”

For now, Hall is living in Beaumont in Riverside County and working at the Cabazon outlets as a store supervisor. She’s deciding whether to go back to college to finish a degree or to apply for the local police force.

“I’m very excited. I can start my career now,” she said. “I can start my life.”

India Marks Milestone in Fight Against Polio

By Ravi Nessman for The Associated Press

India will celebrate a full year since its last reported case of polio on Friday, a major victory in a global eradication effort that seemed stalled just a few years ago.

If no previously undisclosed cases of the crippling disease are discovered, India will no longer be considered polio endemic, leaving only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria on that list.

“This is a game changer in a huge way,” said Bruce Aylward, head of the World Health Organization’s global polio campaign.

The achievement gives a major morale boost to health advocates and donors who had begun to lose hope of ever defeating the stubborn disease that the world had promised to eradicate by 2000.

It also helps India, which bills itself as one of the world’s emerging powers, shed the embarrassing link to a disease associated with poverty and chaos, one that had been conquered long ago by most of the globe.

The government cautiously welcomed the milestone as a confirmation of its commitment to fighting the disease and the 120 billion rupees ($2.4 billion) it has spent on the program.

“We are excited and hopeful. At the same time, vigilant and alert,” Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said in a statement. Azad warned that India needed to push forward with its vaccination campaign to ensure the elimination of any residual virus and to prevent the import and spread of virus from abroad.

The polio virus, which usually infects children in unsanitary conditions, attacks the central nervous system, sometimes causing paralysis, muscular atrophy, deformation and, in some cases, death.

With its dense population, poor sanitation, high levels of migration and weak public health system, India had been seen as “the perfect storm of polio,” Aylward said. Even some vaccinated children fell ill with the virus because malnutrition and chronic diarrhea made their bodies too weak to properly process the oral vaccine.

In 2009, India had 741 cases. That plunged to 42 in 2010. Last year, there was a single case, an 18-month-old girl named Ruksana Khatun who fell ill in West Bengal state Jan. 13. She was the country’s last reported polio victim.

Part of the sudden success is credited to tighter monitoring that allowed health officials to quickly hit areas of outbreaks with emergency vaccinations. Part is also attributed to the rollout of a new vaccine in 2010 that more powerfully targeted the two remaining strains of the disease.

Under the $300 million-a-year campaign the government runs with help from the WHO and UNICEF, 2.5 million workers fan out across the country twice a year to give the vaccine to 175 million children.

They hike to remote villages, wander through trains to reach migrating families and stop along roadsides to vaccinate the homeless.

Philanthropist Bill Gates, whose foundation has made polio eradication a priority, hailed India’s achievement as an example of the progress that can be made on difficult development problems.

“Polio can be stopped when countries combine the right elements: political will, quality immunization campaigns and an entire nation’s determination. We must build on this historic moment and ensure that India’s polio program continues to move full-steam ahead until eradication is achieved,” he said in a statement.

Health officials are working to make polio the second human disease eradicated, after smallpox. But while smallpox carriers were easy to find because everyone infected developed symptoms, only a tiny fraction of those infected with the polio virus ever contract the disease. So while no one in India is reported to have suffered from polio in a year, the virus — which travels through human waste — could still be lingering.

That’s why the country will not be certified as completely polio-free until at least three full years pass without a case. And it is why public health advocates warn against complacency in the massive vaccination efforts.

“We are at a threshold. If we take a long step, we may be in trouble,” said Dr. Yash Paul, a pediatrician in the northern city of Jaipur who was a member of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics’ polio eradication committee until it was dismantled last year because the academy felt it was no longer needed.

Paul also appealed to public health officials to begin switching from the oral vaccine, which is easy to administer but contains live virus that can cause the disease in rare cases, to an injectible vaccine that uses dead virus.

The last time a country came off the endemic list was Egypt in 2006. If India succeeds in getting removed from the list in the coming weeks, only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria will remain. All three saw a rise in cases last year over 2010, and Pakistan is suffering a particularly explosive outbreak, Aylward said.

In addition, 22 other countries that had eradicated the disease suffered new outbreaks. However, some of those outbreaks stemmed from polio imported from India, so getting rid of the virus here is expected to lessen such outbreaks in the future.

Dr. Donald Henderson, who headed WHO’s smallpox eradication program and had long been skeptical of the possibility of eradicating polio, said Thursday he was now hopeful the disease could be conquered across the world by the end of next year.

“You look at a series of dominoes, this is the big one. The others are definitely easier. If we can do it in India, than I’m more optimistic that we can do it in these other countries,” he said. “I’m celebrating a bit. I’ll certainly drink a glass tomorrow … and keep my fingers crossed.”

Aylward hopes India’s success will spur donors to dedicate more money to the polio fight, partly because full eradication could free up funds for other global health issues.

The WHO program needs another $500 million to fund operations for the rest of the year, and some programs could run out of funding by March, he said.

“If we fail at this point, it’s an issue of will,” he said.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Congratulations to India on a great achievement. Despite massive poverty and numerous internal problems, India is working towards the betterment of its people, something Pakistan can learn a great deal from~

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