A visionary in her right, and the founder of SEVA and Attorney, Nilima Shah has impressive credentials to her name, along with a decorated career, which makes her just the right person to bring justice to those who have been long overlooked by the currently unjust immigration system.
Nilima’s alma mater includes many prestigious institutions the likes of Gujarat University, India, from where she earned her Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Law (LL.B.) degrees; Mt. San Antonio Community College, California, from where she went on to earn her Associate in Science in Paralegal Studies.
In addition to her success in academia, Nilima has worked for Superior Court of San Bernardino, and in a number of private law firms for over 6 years; after which she decided to get her license to practice law, earning her Master of Law (LL.M.) degree from Chapman University Dale Fowler School of Law, Orange, California. Moreover, She is a licensed law practitioner in the State of California. She is admitted to practice before Immigration Courts (Executive Office of Immigration Review) across all 50 states, as well as the Supreme Court of California. As well as she is admitted to practice and regularly challenges Immigration Judge’s decisions in United States District Court for the Central District of California and United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
All these credentials combined make Nilima a celebrated attorney amongst her peers; and have given her the necessary prowess to pursue her passion for justice and equality for the oppressed and marginalized.
Caring and effective advocate
Being an immigrant herself, Nilima had to face many hardships along her journey. Being closely involved with the immigration process from nearly very vantage point, gave her a unique perspective that many others lack. She has witnessed first-hand the imbalance of justice for those detained and decided to take a brave step forward towards helping out those in need. She has worked relentlessly to provide justice to those in need by opening SEVA. She kept her own interests aside and has since then been working tirelessly, rushing from location to location, appearing daily in immigration court, working long hours to meet and interview detainees.
Her passion for what she believes in is evident from the amount of dedication that is exhibited through her work. Her reputation as an honest, zealous, hard-working and professional attorney is unparalleled. She is spoken of in very high regard by her fellow peers, which include government attorneys, private bar attorney and judges! This personal familiarity with the immigration process, together with her extensive professional training and experience, makes her a compassionate and effective advocate in immigration matters.
Committed to immigrants
Immigration is the greatest passport that anybody in the world could hope for, it provides the freedom to live and work anywhere in the world and the promise of a better life. As an immigrant to the United States, Nilima has experienced this incredible opportunity first hand and wishes to bring these very opportunities in the reach of others. Her commitment towards helping immigrants, both detained and non-privileged can be clearly exhibited from her relentless efforts to ensuring that they get access to justice. Helping them make their dreams come true is her passion. Whether in the courtroom or one-on-one legal consultations, she has established quite a rapport with both her clients and colleagues; and a record of professionalism, treating clients with the courtesy and respect that they deserve, so that they feel comfortable entrusting their future to Nilima.
She is always eager and motivated to offer her significant skills and knowledge to assist primarily in achieving the missions and goals of SEVA to help detained immigrants with their immigration proceedings.
Involved in public interest
As a law student at Chapman, Nilima participated in the Bette and Wylie Aitken Family Violence Clinic, where she handled U visa and VAWA applications for clients. Learning about the international refugee law and the asylum process for immigrants exiled from their homes as a result of war and bigotry changed Nilima’s paradigms and gave her a whole new perspective on how she views the immigration law.
This experience left a lasting impression on Nilima and inspired her to continue providing pro bono legal services to immigration clients. This led her to work as a pro bono attorney for the University of La Verne's Asylum Clinic helping clients with asylum cases, Inland County Legal Services, working on U visas and VAWA petitions for eligible applicants. She also volunteered at Esperanza’s legal representation program taking on a pro bono cases including asylum representation for a detained immigrant in Adelanto and SIJS representation for a non-detained minor in Los Angeles immigration court. Additionally, Nilima volunteered as a pro bono attorney at the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Immigration Legal Assistance Program (LACBA), and in doing so has had the pleasure of helping a variety of clients from across the globe in preparing various Immigration Petitions; she has also volunteered at LACBA’s Pro Bono Legal Representation program by making limited court appearances for individuals without attorneys and informing them of their rights and available forms of relief.
Whilst volunteering for these organizations, Nilima observed that even people who had claims that held merit were being deported due to lack of adequate legal representation. With such factors in mind, Nilima felt the need more than ever to come up with a non-profit to help detainees and asylum seekers get access to justice.
Dedicated to equal access of legal representation
For the past six years, Nilima has witnessed many unrepresented detained immigrants being ordered to be removed due to lack of adequate legal representation, when, infuriatingly, those that stand against them, i.e. the Department of Homeland Security always has attorneys in their corner to prosecute for them. In order to provide access to fair trial and justice, she has focused her practice primarily on representing the detained immigrants in bond, parole, and asylum proceedings before Immigration judges.
Only 14 percent of detained immigrants acquired legal counsel, compared with two-thirds of non-detained immigrants. Immigrants with court hearings in small cities were more than four times less likely to obtain counsel than those with hearings in large cities (11 percent in small cities versus 47 percent in large cities).
Immigrants with attorneys fare better at every stage of the court process. Represented immigrants in detention who had a custody hearing were four times more likely to be released from detention. Represented immigrants were much more likely to apply for relief from deportation. Detained immigrants with counsel were nearly 11 times more likely to seek relief such as asylum than those without representation (32 percent with counsel versus 3 percent without).
Realizing the urgent need of equal right to legal representation in Immigration court, she frequently provided pro bono court representation in Adelanto and Imperial immigration court to detained immigrants in negative credible fear redetermination proceedings and removal hearings who could not afford to hire an attorney to represent them. To continue providing them equal access to legal representation before an immigration judge, Nilima decided to start SEVA Legal Help Organization as a way to attain justice for as many detained immigrants as possible.