Soccer, Tutoring – and Legal Help, in the Bronx

South Bronx United player Jhonny Theze, wearing the No. 10 blue jersey, drives the ball toward the goal during a Nov. 3 match in Soundview Park in the Bronx against the Manhattan Celtics. (Photo by Vera Haller via Documented)

South Bronx United (SBU) is a soccer-based youth development organization with a budget of $1.1 million, 14 full-time and 13 part-time employees and about 250 volunteer coaches and tutors. In addition to helping youths, including many immigrant teens, to both pursue sports and prepare for college, SBU has taken on another role, writes Vera Haller in Documented: helping some immigrants to obtain the legal right to remain in the U.S.

Since it integrated legal services into its program, SBU has managed 178 immigration cases, helping 28 of its players, including [18 year-old Haitian Johnny] Theze, obtain legal permanent residency. It also has applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status for players and provided representation in naturalization proceedings and asylum requests and renewals.

“We are not a traditional legal services organization, perhaps as untraditional as you can find,” said Andrew So, SBU’s executive director.

So founded SBU in 2009 after teaching public middle and high school in the Morrisania neighborhood. He gradually added immigrant services because so many students came from immigrant families and needed more support than sports and academics. While soccer is the entry point for most students, SBU’s main mission is to ensure student athletes get a sufficient education to enter college or the workplace.

Theze, whose grandmother, his chief caregiver, died in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, came to the U.S. after shuttling around among relatives in Haiti.

“In Haiti, if your family doesn’t have money, you can’t get opportunities,” he said. “If I had stayed in Haiti, I might have ended up on the streets.”

In 2015, at age 15, Theze came on his own to New York, where a family friend in the Bronx agreed to become his official guardian, allowing him to apply for a green card. Soon after, an SBU coach saw him in a pick-up game in Macombs Dam Park, next to Yankee Stadium, and recruited him to the program, Theze said.

The Haitian teen’s application was handled by Brendan Davis, an SBU coach and immigration lawyer. In the current environment, coaches have had to reassure immigrant teens that they are safe and that there are ways they can get legal recourse to remain in the U.S.

Go to Documented to read about other students, their concerns about deportation, and what tutors and coaches have to say about how SBU helps the youths in their program.

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