The Indian American attorney talks to Aziz Haniffa about her newly released biography, “Being Sheela: The Life Journey of an Immigration Lawyer.”
For Indian and other immigrants afraid of challenging government agencies for denials of any kind fearful of repercussions, feisty Indian American immigration lawyer Sheela Murthy has one simple advice: Don’t worry.
“If you got a denial that is in violation of the law, sue them,” says the founder and president of the Owings Mills, Maryland,-based Murthy Law Firm.
“My attitude is no you don’t have to worry. Luckily this is still the United States of America you can sue the government,” says Murthy in a wide ranging interview about her new biography.
“Already we are seeing the changes on the horizon,” she says in conversation with Aziz Haniffa, former Executive Editor of India Abroad, about “Being Sheela: The Life Journey of an Immigration Lawyer,” by Adithi Rao.
“The last four years certainly have been challenging to put it mildly,” says Murthy, referring to former President Donald Trump’s administration when “we almost forgot that we are a nation of immigrants.”
“That our whole country our ethos our culture is all about the Statue of Liberty, ‘bring me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.’”
And “it is really a breath of fresh air that under Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris, we are going back to our fundamental roots,” Murthy added making it a point to mention that she is a registered independent who has over the years voted for both Republicans and Democrats.
“As a lawyer I have to say to my clients, don’t tolerate this if you got a denial that is in violation of what the law, the statute, the regulations, their own policies have said, challenge it, sue them.”
ITServe Alliance, the largest association of IT Services organizations, among others “have asked will there be repercussions against our organization or us as individuals, which is a very common question.”
“And my attitude is no you don’t have to worry. Luckily this is still the United States of America,” Murthy said.
Copies of the book can be obtained from https://murthynayak.org/book-being-sheela
“Already we are seeing the changes on the horizon,” she said. “We are seeing that Biden has introduced reunification of families, created a bipartisan inter-agency team to do that.”
“Wants to bring back asylum seekers to America every year, stop the clock of you know pretty much building the wall, stopping that huge waste of time, effort, energy.”
“No physical wall will keep away a person or family that is hungry,” Murthy said noting, “Joe Biden’s focus on helping the economies in those countries so that there’s less temptation for people to come over and cross the border into the United States.”
“So everything that’s being done seems to be more well thought of, thinking of longer deeper purpose and vision going back to the fundamentals of our country and our constitution.”
Murthy said she was “extremely proud, pleased and excited to see what we have on the horizon and I’m hoping that it will continue for four years, and if god willing as they say inshallah for the next eight years.”
“You know for all of us to continue to see deep meaningful change and going back to the fundamentals of our country under Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Devi Harris.”
Now one thing we know as leaders is you can never make every single person happy, every single time, yes and that’s fine we can’t.”
“But you have to be fair and just honest and know that you are doing right in your mind, heart, soul and body and that you are being true to what you believe in fundamentally as a human being to do right by your fellow human beings.
“From what I’ve seen from Joe Biden so far, it comes across that way and so I’m excited for our country,” said Murthy, who was recently featured in The Trailblazers, an interview series hosted by Haniffa, now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Asked about the “very powerful and intriguing title that captures the essence of the book,” Murthy said “Rao and myself sort of went around all kinds of fancy snazzy stuff, but in the end she said you know the sometimes the simplest is the most eloquent and the most beautiful, the less is more philosophy.”
“And so she said, let’s go with just ‘Being Sheela’ because it’s all about you, your soul, your work, your life your journey and then she decided to add the sub title because people may not know what ‘Being Sheela’ is about.”
On the process of working with India-based author Rao, Murthy said, “It was very intense. She is like all perfectionists people, who are after a mission, a goal to get to it.”
“She literally hounded me chased me followed me every trip made to India. She kept asking me questions, follow-up questions…to ensure that she understood nuances and complexities of US immigration law.”
Rao also spoke with Murthy’s sisters and mother as also her husband Vasant Nayak’s sister as he is “a very private person.”
Asked what drives her towards being an indefatigable advocate for her clients, Murthy said, “So … like each of us have our own DNA that we’re born with.”
“I think mine from my childhood was always about fighting for the rights for others, fighting for justice, fighting against injustice, fighting for women’s rights, for the rights of the downtrodden and the underprivileged.”
“As human beings we are only complete if we truly give a portion of our love, our compassion and heart to people, especially in areas like immigration which is such a deeply intense personal life-changing process for people,” Murthy said.
“The ability to live and work in America, the ability to send money back to their families in India or any other part of the world, the ability of financial freedom, of intellectual options, of job satisfaction, of putting food on the table, of changing the destiny of America.”
“Those are just such important goals and at the core of it America is a nation of immigrants,” she said noting “Pretty much everyone comes from somewhere unless you’re a native American.”
Talking about her relationship with her parents, Murthy spoke about “the incredible love that had with my father. And he was like this guiding star for me in many ways.”
She was actually annoyed with her mother “because I felt she put a lot of pressure and expected so much out of me,” Murthy said. “I only started to appreciate her more” later.
“As they say, when you’re young you don’t appreciate the sacrifices of our parents and then as we grow older we get to appreciate them.”
Murthy said she was “very very blessed to have a son who is so loving, caring, kind, mature, sensible, looks like a Sufi saint so often” and her husband “has been such a rock.”
“It’s just incredible, never having seen a very loving, caring marriage in my own parents and in our own home growing up or even with my actually aunts and uncles.”
On her decision to become a lawyer, Murthy said, “Just knew can’t stand blood, so medicine was out of the question ,there was no doctor bone in me. Engineering, again hated mathematics, didn’t love it.”
“There was some part of me that connected on a deeper level and so to see that justice can be rendered by a person who you know believes that the role that we can play as lawyers can be so life-altering think gave me a sense of purpose, a sense of feeling of being larger than myself.”
Speaking about her philanthropic ventures, her support of the girl scouts, the Harvard scholarship education activities in India, Murthy said, “I think a part of it again was my father’s influence.”
“It’s interesting how he grew up poor, he made it a point that we needed to do more for the world and support other organizations and people.”
Murthy said she was “proud that America is a nation of immigrants for every single charity that Vasant Nayak, my husband, and myself both contribute is something that pulls at the heartstrings for us, something that we can relate to that we connect with.”
Asked about a couple of moving poems by winners of the American immigration council’s creative essay writing contest at the beginning and end of the book, Murthy said, “These are young talented children who relate to their families, their ancestors who embrace the notion of America as a nation of immigrants.”
“If people like Donald Trump had participated in such a competition when he was in middle school, maybe we wouldn’t be having the kind of xenophobic hatred and fear and insecurity that exists in America by those who try to squish the voices of others,” she said.
Those others “who want to help enshrine the noble values in our constitution of freedom and liberty for all and embracing people from across the globe,” Murthy said, “because that is what has made us such an incredibly great country the world leader because we are open to bringing the best and brightest from across the globe right within to our own shores.”