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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
02/24/2010

Former child human trafficking victim pursues career with ICE

At 10 years old, Shyima Hall's life was analogous to a dark fairy tale. As a human trafficking victim in Irvine, Calif., her everyday existence was hopeless drudgery, living in penury and servitude, all the while being verbally abused. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents discovered Hall after an anonymous tip led to a full-scale investigation of her traffickers, which freed Hall to open a new and promising chapter of her life. Today, Hall is a 20-year-old Southern California college student studying law enforcement. Her goal is to become an ICE special agent.

Hall's experience began in 2001 when a businessman brought her to the United States from Egypt, telling immigration officers at the Los Angeles International Airport that he was accompanying his "adoptive daughter" on a trip to a theme park.

Instead, the man delivered her to a wealthy Egyptian couple who forced her to work seven days a week cleaning their opulent Orange County home and caring for their five children. When she wasn't working, the couple made Shyima sleep on a bare, dirty mattress in the garage and wash her clothes outside in a bucket. She was not allowed to attend school and received no medical or dental care.

Hall's path to freedom began when an anonymous caller contacted authorities, and child welfare workers immediately responded. ICE agent Mark Abend, who spearheaded the investigation leading to the conviction of Shyima's captors, vividly remembers that day in April 2003.

"Shyima was confused and frightened," Abend remembers. Her captors told her authorities would beat her if she was discovered and her family in Egypt would not receive money they had been promised. "I was appalled," said Abend, "imagining how I would feel if this had happened to one of my children."

Hall's case, unfortunately, is not an isolated incident. As one of the primary federal agencies responsible for combating human trafficking, ICE special agents conduct hundreds of investigations each year into this modern-day form of slavery rescuing numerous victims of commercial sex and forced labor exploitation.

Human trafficking occurs in every legitimate and illegitimate labor sector in society. Yet the victims' experiences are all remarkably similar to Hall's. Their captors often confiscate their passports and use threats and abuse to keep the victims isolated and fearful as they force them to work in deplorable and often dangerous conditions.

"ICE is committed to the aggressive investigation and prosecution of traffickers who exploit some of the most vulnerable members of our society," said James A. Dinkins, director of the Office of Investigations. "Ms. Hall's case is an inspiring example of how lives can be transformed when the public, law enforcement and non-governmental organizations work together to fight this crime."

Although not a federal agent yet, Hall is already an asset to ICE. In October 2009, she spoke to ICE special agents at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia, sharing her experience as a human trafficking victim, including the emotional and physical trauma she endured. The agents told Hall that she "opened their eyes to the personal side of these cases." Hall says, "I want to do everything I can now and in the future to help people understand more about this issue."

The public can help victims of human trafficking by contacting the ICE tip line at 1-866-DHS-2ICE to report anyone who they suspect is held against their will. Public service announcements and other information on human trafficking can be found on the ICE human trafficking page.