Slavery in Suburbia

The John Birch Society has a piece about Shyima Hall, the young Egyptian woman who was forced into servitude at the age of nine for the Inbrahims, a family in Irvine, California, and about whom I blogged earlier this month.

In the piece, writer Isabel Lyman, who holds a doctorate in social science tells the story of the young girl from the hard labor to her eventual emancipation.

She spent long days ironing, cooking, dusting, mopping, and laundering. In exchange, she received $45 a month and slept in the non-heated, non-air conditioned garage of the family’s fancy-schmancy five bedroom home. Not only was Shyima forbidden to use the household’s washing machine (she had to clean her clothes in a bucket), during a trip to Disneyland Park she was the designated valet who carted around the family’s belongings, while her employers’ children (who had nicknamed her “stupid”) rode Space Mountain. For Shyima there was never an opportunity for playing with toys or other children. Just like the Cinderella in the fairy tale who labored as a scullery maid for a trio of mean girls, it was all work, work, work.

An anonymous tipster – likely a neighbor – contacted the California Department of Social Services about the child who lived in the garage, and the Ibrahims were busted by the local police department. Shyima was placed in foster care and, eventually, found a real-life Prince Charming in a caring American couple who adopted her and took her to Disneyland to ride the rides. Today, at age 19, she aspires to a career in law enforcement and has no contact with her family in northern Africa. Her former employers who pled guilty to charges of “forced labor and slavery,” were sentenced to a federal prison and deportation. The court also ordered the Ibrahims to pay back wages to Shyima.

Shyima’s is a rare story not in that she was enslaved in Orange County, but that she was eventually given her freedom and found a happy ending.

Perhaps most haunting of all of Lyman’s observations is this:

Perhaps the core issue that should concern Americans, who already generously give umpteen dollars in (unconstitutional) foreign aid to the Third World and to private organizations like Free the Slaves and World Vision’s Children of War Centers, is: What kind of values are we importing when we welcome into the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave those who don’t share our abhorrence of such practices as child maids, child brides, child soldiers, or child prostitutes. Excusing such “customs” in the hallowed name of cultural diversity or globalization is to excuse criminal behavior and to dumb down our values, as innocents get hurt and human life is cheapened.

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