A decade ago, Shyima Hall’s life was pretty bleak. At the age of ten, she was a slave in a private home in Irvine, California. That is, until the day that special agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrived at her doorstep while investigating her traffickers. The agents freed Shyima and arrested the family who was abusing and enslaving her. Today, Shyima is a college student and is working to become an ICE agent herself to pay forward her fortune to someone else in need.
Shyima’s journey began in Egypt, where she was brought to the U.S. as a child. The man who snuck her into the U.S. as his daughter sold her to a wealthy Egyptian couple living in California. The couple made her to work seven days a week, scouring California mansion from top to bottom and looking after their five children. Shyima slept on a dirty mattress in the garage, without blanket, even in the winter. She had to wash her clothes outside in a bucket. Unlike the family’s children, Shymia was not allowed to attend school or visit the doctor or dentist.
Just as Shyima was wondering how on earth she could escape from her hell, ICE agents in California received an anonymous tip that an Egyptian couple in Irvine had a child living with them who they might be mistreating. An investigation with child protective services and ICE working together soon followed, eventually leading agents to enter the home where Shyima was being held. They found a terrified child, who had been repeatedly told by her captors that U.S. authorities would beat her if she was ever discovered. She was frightened of the agents and what would happen to her family in Egypt, if the money from her work was no longer sent home.
Today, that child could not be a farther cry from the woman Shyima Hall has become. She is in college in Southern California, and is already working with ICE as she studies to become a special agent. Last year, she spoke to a group of special agents at a training about her experience as a human trafficking victim, including the emotional and physical trauma she endured. How does she summon then courage to relive such traumatic experiences in front of an audience? According to Shyima, “I want to do everything I can now and in the future to help people understand more about this issue.”
Human trafficking stories are too often about the triumph of oppression, desperation, or greed over justice. But Shyima Hall’s story is one of the triumph of resilience, restoration, and justice over slavery. A decade ago, Shyima Hall was given the gift of freedom by ICE agents who were complete strangers to her. And now, she’s ready to pass that gift forward as an agent herself.
Photo credit: U.S. Atty