iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) — A coach has stepped down from her position as head of the University of Virginia women’s basketball team to travel to Senegal with her young daughter to finalize her adoption.
At issue? The family isn’t sure when they will be able to return to the United States.
“It’s rocked me for sure,” Joanne Boyle, 54, told ABC News.
Boyle said she had wanted to adopt a child from Senegal since she was a teenager. Boyle said she’d tried before with no luck until 2012, when a family friend connected her to an orphanage in the city of Tambacounda, which sent her a picture of Ngoty, now age 6, who was given up for adoption by her grandmother when she was a baby.
Five months later, Boyle, who had visited the country before as the head coach of the University of California, Berkeley’s women’s basketball team, was back on a plane to Senegal to meet the baby and officially begin the adoption process.
Over the next two years, Boyle said she took 14 trips back and forth to Tambacounda. Ngoty was sick — suffering from severe malnutrition and constant fevers, as well as a number of other ailments. At age 3, she weighed just 23 pounds, Boyle said.
In 2014, Boyle was granted legal guardianship of Ngoty and given a court order allowing her to take the child out of Senegal. In December of that year, Boyle returned to the U.S. with Ngoty — still ill and using a tourist visa — by her side.
But their troubles were just beginning. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied Ngoty’s I-600, a document that qualifies an orphan as an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen.
Boyle, through her lawyer, Irene Steffas, tried to appeal the denial, but according to the USCIS, Ngoty cannot be in the U.S. when the form is filed and processed.
Therefore, Ngoty has to return to Senegal, but she won’t go alone. Boyle will be heading back with her daughter.
But the process could take months or even years.
There is a glimmer of hope, however: Ngoty’s story is gaining traction.
Former 2016 vice presidential candidate and current U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., has contacted USCIS on the family’s behalf, his office told ABC News, and he went to Charlottesville on Sunday to offer his help in any way he can.
“Ngoty is an energetic and active kid who likes to play dress-up and Nerf basketball with her neighborhood friends. Joanne has been working toward an international adoption for a decade,” Kaine said in a statement to ABC News. “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.”
Boyle is staying positive and relying on her faith, she said.
“I have been on a journey for a long time. I have always walked in faith. I know there’s a purpose,” Boyle said. “If I don’t walk in that way, I will fall down.”
Boyle said she will do all she can for her daughter and consider this time in Senegal an adventure for the two of them.
But because she doesn’t know when she’ll return, she stepped down from her position as head coach of UVA’s women’s basketball team.
“The person who is the head coach of this program needs to fully commit themselves and give their all to these deserving young women,” Boyle said in a statement announcing her retirement, citing only a “family matter.”
Looking back, Boyle said her time as UVA’s coach was “an unforgettable seven years” as she coached women “who were united, selfless and truly committed to one another,” the statement read.
“It was a pleasure and honor to coach them,” the statement added.
UVA fully supports Boyle’s decision. Virginia athletics director Carla Williams described Joanne Boyle as “a tremendous representative” of UVA and a “tireless worker” in a statement.
“I understand her personal situation and respect her decision,” Williams said. “It is a reflection of who she is as a person.”
USCIS declined to comment on the case other than to say: “We are committed to acting in the best interest of the children and families while upholding the integrity of our country’s immigration system.”
Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.