Report — From the April 2015 issue

American Hustle

How elite youth basketball exploits African athletes

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Things got even worse for Ene a few months later, when his aunt’s landlord pointed out that the young man wasn’t listed on the lease, and he was forced to move out. Now he had nowhere to go. Through a search on the Web, he found a Harlem nonprofit called African Services Committee (ASC) and showed up there hauling two bags. “It was like he was going to board a flight,” said Jessica Greenberg, an attorney with the organization, who immediately suspected that Ene was homeless. She phoned around but was unable to find him a bed — the nineteen-year-old would have to spend the night at a men’s shelter.

He returned to the ASC office the next morning with a shell-shocked look on his face. The staff had warned Ene to keep his belongings close at hand, so he had clung to his baggage all night long. Another attorney, Kate Webster, called Covenant House, a center for homeless youth, and insisted that they provide a bed for him. “We are talking about a trafficking victim,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ben and Dixon were being assisted by the Polaris Project, an antitrafficking nonprofit. Ene called the organization so frequently to check up on his former companions that the receptionist came to recognize the sound of his voice. He displayed similar initiative in fixing his visa status. After one of his initial consultations at ASC, Webster left him at a computer while she went to make some photocopies. “I figured he would download a video game,” she said. Instead, when she returned a few minutes later, she found him researching the U visa, which is reserved for immigrants who have been the victims of a crime. “Maybe,” he asked her, “I would be eligible for this?”

In the end, Webster counseled Ene to put in a petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Originally created in 1990 for undocumented children in foster care, it was later expanded to include kids who could prove they had been the victims of abuse, abandonment, or neglect at the hand of a parent or guardian. In 2013, one of the most traumatic experiences of Ene’s life — his father’s official renunciation of his parental rights — resulted in his receiving a green card.

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’s work on this article was supported by an Emerson Fellowship at the New America Foundation and a grant from the Ford Foundation. A broadcast version of the piece is available at WNYC.org.

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