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Attorney from India: Time to give back

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, July 2, 2013, at 6:28 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, July 4, 2013, at 7:22 a.m.

The large, black-and-white portraits of his parents on the wall behind Abdul Arif’s desk are a reminder of where he came from and how far he’s come.

“It’s a typical immigrant story: You come here with a few dollars in your pocket and find fame and fortune, and mine’s no different. I don’t know about the fame part or fortune part, but certainly this country has been phenomenally good to me.”

Now 53, Arif came to the United States at age 16 from Hyderabad, India.

He came to Wichita, where his brother’s first job out of the University of Missouri-Columbia’s journalism school was at The Wichita Eagle.

“He’s long gone, but I stayed behind,” Arif said. “It’s a pretty good place, obviously.”

At age 19, he started Alterations by Sarah, which has grown to six locations and more than 30 employees. After 20 years of running the business, he decided it was time to go back to school.

“When I was 38, my son graduated from high school so that kind of hit me,” he said. “I wasn’t even a high school graduate yet. So I completed my GED, then went to Southwestern College and then to law school.”

His parents were university professors in India.

“When you have that academic background, and even though I was doing pretty well financially, you always feel like you’re missing something.”

Now, Arif practices law downtown with two other attorneys. Their offices are next door to the Mayflower Clinic, which was founded by immigrants, including Arif.

“It’s time for us to give back,” he said. “That’s why the clinic is so successful. The other part of the narrative is this is a great country. It gives to you, but you also have to have a responsibility to give back.”

He argues cases in the same courthouse in which, in 1980, he became a U.S. citizen.

His firm handles all types of law, including consumer bankruptcy and civil rights litigation. It also handles immigration.

“It gives us a perspective that our clients can share. Some of the challenges we faced we can pass on to them and give them that unique knowledge that is relevant to them since we’ve shared some of their experiences.”

Arif’s feelings are expressed even in his car’s license plate: THNXUSA

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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