“Where Are They Now?” is a blog series where we catch up with past Lambda Legal plaintiffs. For August, we are highlighting Soul, who we represented in his 2014 immigration case.
Many teenagers and young adults in college depend on their parents for financial and emotional support and even more so for students who leave their home country to study abroad. But for Soul, that crucial support was threatened when his parents discovered that the Senegal native was gay. He was completely cut off. Soul was terrified because he knew he could not stay in school without their assistance and would most likely be sent back to his home country, which criminalizes people for being LGBTQ.
Soul later connected with Currey Cook, Senior Counsel and Director of our Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project, which helps LGBTQ+ youth in child welfare, juvenile justice systems, and youth experiencing homelessness. Currey helped him obtain his legal permanent resident status or “green card” through a federal immigration process called Special Juvenile Immigrant Status (“SIJS”). This provision allows young people under 21 to apply for their SIJS status if a juvenile court finds them unmarried, abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents, and moving back to their home country is not in their best interest. If approved, they will receive their “green card.”
In Soul’s own words, he talks about the importance of asking for help and living happily out loud.
Before I got to the United States, I knew I was part of the LGBTQ community. But in Senegal and other countries in West Africa, it’s not something you talk about; it’s just not part of the culture. You have no rights; you can be jailed and even killed. Knowing I couldn’t protect myself back at home, I decided to come to the U.S. to attend college. That way, I could be safe. I never told my parents the real season; I just told them it was for a better education.
When I got to San Francisco, I saw how free people could be. Yet, I got in trouble when I came out to my father. He cut me off, and I had no way to pay my rent and bills or stay in school. I was afraid I was going to be homeless. I was all by myself and felt abandoned. Even worse, I was an international student, meaning I would have to go back home if I wasn’t enrolled in college.
Thankfully, a friend from home living in New York City offered to take me in. Shortly after, I moved to the Bronx with him and his family. I began to reach out to the LGBTQ community and went to the NYC LGBT Center, and the more people I met, the more they wanted to know my story. At first, I wasn’t comfortable, but over time I started to tell people about what I was going through. I wanted to stay in the U.S. Through those connections; I was introduced to Currey Cook from Lambda Legal.
With his help, I applied for my “green card” after being granted Special Juvenile Immigrant Status. Soon after, my friend’s family stepped in to become my legal guardians formally, a crucial step in the legal process and one we needed help with.
I never knew organizations like Lambda Legal existed, but I am grateful for them.
Since obtaining my green card, I joined the U.S. Army, received a scholarship, and am now in college, majoring in computer science. This summer, I am working as a programmer—something I couldn’t do legally without my green card. Oh, and I’m applying for my Master’s Degree next year! My life is so much better now, and I’m more myself.
I am free. Just by living a happier life with more positive energy.
Learn more about Immigration Protection for LGBTQ+ youth here.