After Tragedy, Nigerian Teenagers Secure Path to US Citizenship - McDermott Will & Emery

After Tragedy, Nigerian Teenagers Secure Path to US Citizenship


In 2010, a group of talented teenage soccer players left Nigeria to play on an elite team in Chicago. Less than a year later, tragedy struck when 16-year-old Kabiru Adewunmi was shot and killed outside of a South Side convenience store. Four of his friends and teammates, who were part of the group that had come to Chicago from Nigeria, witnessed the shooting but escaped without physical injury.

The Chicago Police Department suspected the shooting was likely a gang initiation, although they did not believe that Kabiru or his friends were in a gang. A subsequent investigation failed to identify the killer.


In the wake of the murder, the four boys who had been at the convenience store with Kabiru remained in Chicago, living with local families. Their visitor visa status had expired, and they sought a pathway to obtain legal status in the US and seek new opportunities.


A pro bono team at McDermott, led by Joan-Elisse Carpentier, learned of the boys’ story and began helping them apply for U Nonimmigrant Status (U visas), which are reserved for crime victims or witnesses.

U visas require the cooperation of law enforcement, and local police departments can choose whether to participate. The McDermott team kept in close contact with Chicago police, particularly the officer leading the investigation into the shooting. He signed the required forms, opening the door to the temporary U visas for the boys.

After receiving the signed forms, McDermott helped the Nigerian teenagers navigate the complex, time-consuming administrative process of filing for U visas with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services—and later for Permanent Residence (Green Cards).


Of the four boys who received U visas, one is now a US citizen and is working with the McDermott team to enable his mother in Nigeria to obtain an immigrant visa to enter the US as a permanent resident.

Two of the other boys are currently working on their citizenship applications. One of them has a green card and may apply for US citizenship. All four are gainfully employed and have built lives and communities in the United States: one played professional soccer, several attended college, and two have started their own families.

To date, the immigration process for the group has taken more than a decade to coordinate, involving a large team of lawyers drawing on McDermott’s resources and their individual strengths.


It took more than two years for the boys secure U visas, leaning on the skill and experience of their McDermott team. At the outset of the application, each teenager had to demonstrate his good moral character and make a personal statement about how the shooting impacted his life. The McDermott team helped them answer questions properly, draft statements and obtain references from people including their high school and college teachers, families they had lived with, their soccer coach and others.

Within a few years, the boys were eligible to receive their green cards—which required additional forms and references. Green card holders can apply for citizenship after five years. The McDermott team has smoothed the way, working closely with the boys to navigate each step of the process as they reach the necessary milestones.

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