Former Virginia women’s basketball coach Joanne Boyle will tell her daughter that their trip to Senegal is a vacation, a chance to go back and see some familiar faces in the country where 6-year-old Ngoty was born.
Boyle won’t mention the piles of adoption paperwork, the expired tourist visa, the I-600 form — or the fact that when they leave, they might not know when they’ll be able to return.
“I have to present this to my daughter as though it’s an adventure,” Boyle told USA TODAY Sports last week. “Because if I’m fearful, she’ll be fearful.”
When Boyle abruptly retired as the Cavaliers’ coach last month, citing only “a family matter that may require more time away from the program,” her explanation belied the complexity of the situation — a winding and at times emotional adoption and immigration process with Ngoty that has been unfolding for more than five years.
Boyle revealed to The Washington Post last week that she left Virginia because of the uncertain timeframe surrounding Ngoty’s path to U.S. citizenship. The issue, Boyle said, isn’t that the process will require mother and daughter to return to Senegal to finalize paperwork with the U.S. Embassy there; it’s that if they left tomorrow, they wouldn’t know whether they would be gone a few months or several years.
“We’re all about leaving (the country) and doing this the right way,” Boyle said. “It’s just that leaving without any sort of documentation … (means) we could just be sitting in Senegal, just waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting.”
Boyle, 54, is eager to reach the end of what she described as a journey — an international adoption process that dates to 2008, when she was the head coach at California.
In May of that year, the Golden Bears traveled to Senegal to play international games and visited an orphanage during their trip. Boyle met some of the children and saw the conditions at the orphanage. The experience stuck with her. She knew at that moment that she wanted to adopt.
Then, four years later, she met Ngoty at an orphanage in Tambacounda, Senegal.
“Once I met her, I was done,” Boyle said. “It was, ‘OK, what do I have to do?’ “
Ngoty’s case became unusually complicated when, in 2015, Boyle brought her to the United States on a tourist visa. Boyle said she obtained the visa because Ngoty was ill, and she wanted to ensure the child would receive appropriate medical care. She and her lawyer, Irene Steffas, said the U.S. Embassy in Senegal knew Boyle was in the midst of the adoption process and helped her obtain the visa.
Now, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have denied what’s called a Form I-600, a precursor to the final consular check in Senegal.
Should Boyle and Ngoty return to Senegal without that approved form, Steffas said, the form could be denied again or they could encounter paperwork delays that would require them to stay in the country, more than 4,000 miles from their Charlottesville, Va., home and Ngoty’s school.
“Joanne has already stepped down from her job, committed to taking whatever steps necessary to keep her family together,” Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine told USA TODAY Sports in a statement. “Immigration officials have it in their power to grant this approval — and they should — so Joanne and Ngoty don’t have to say goodbye to the community they love.”
USCIS spokesperson Carter Langston told USA TODAY Sports in a statement that privacy issues prevent the organization from discussing specific cases, but it “considers the welfare of the child to be paramount.”
“We are committed to acting in the best interests of the children and families while upholding the integrity of our country’s immigration system,” Langston wrote.
Boyle acknowledged that Ngoty’s adoption case has been unusually complicated, but she wonders whether some of the bureaucracy is making it tougher for children in need to find good homes. According to U.S. State Department statistics, the number of international adoptions has declined from 20,675 in 2006 to 3,980 in 2016.
As Ngoty’s process continues, Boyle said she’s at peace with her decision to retire from coaching less than two weeks after guiding the Cavaliers to their first NCAA tournament appearance in eight years. She’s felt as if she has had two full-time jobs in recent years, and she’s happy to now devote herself to Ngoty and finalizing her adoption — no matter how long it might take.
“Before bringing her (to the U.S.), I thought I’d have to move to Africa to make this work. I was willing to do that,” Boyle said. “So I’m not quitting. This is a process. If we have to go back to Senegal for a longer period of time than I thought, then I’m going to walk in faith, and there’s a reason behind it.”
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