He Said He Was 17, but High School Basketball Player May Be Closer to 30
A South Sudan immigrant and standout basketball player at a Catholic high school in Canada has been arrested after it was revealed that his true age is not 17, but closer to 29, the authorities said.
The student, Jonathan Nicola, who is 6 foot 9 and wears size 16 shoes, had been attending Catholic Central High School in Windsor, Ontario, as an 11th grader for the past six months after arriving on a student visa, The Windsor Star reported. He was so good that his coach was promoting him as a prospect to play in the N.B.A.
But the Canada Border Services Agency has accused Mr. Nicola of misrepresenting material facts on his application for a study permit. He was arrested after the authorities showed up at the principal’s office at the end of a school day this month and asked him how old he was. He admitted he wasn’t 17, immigration officials said.
In an interview with The Star, Mr. Nicola described the difficulties of gaining a visa from his home country, which has been thrown into chaos by war and terrorism. He said it took him six months, and he left South Sudan in November 2015 for a better life, arriving in Windsor, Ontario, three days before what he said was his 17th birthday.
“I really am happy that I am here, happy with the nice people who support me,” he told The Star.
He had received a study permit and an athletic scholarship to Catholic Central High, reports said. Mr. Nicola lived with the basketball team’s head coach, Pete Cusumano, through a program called Canada Homestay, which finds homes for foreign students. But his rising star began to fall in mid-April.
The trouble started when the border agency took a closer look at Mr. Nicola’s application for the study permit. An agency spokeswoman, Julie Campbell, said he had listed a birth date of Nov. 25, 1998.
That would make him 17.
But information emerged that he had also unsuccessfully applied for an American visitor visa, and had given a birth date of Nov. 1, 1986, Ms. Campbell said.
That would make him 30 in November.
The authorities matched his fingerprints with those of a person who had applied to enter the United States using the 1986 birth date. The match was confirmed on April 15, and he was arrested the same day, Ms. Campbell said.
Mr. Nicola was being held at the South West Detention Center, reports say, and has had two reviews before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Another hearing is scheduled for next month.
Stephen Fields, a spokesman for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, said in an email Thursday that he could not comment on the case because of Canadian privacy laws. But, in general, he wrote, the school board had a “rigorous system” that required all international students to present valid government documentation before they enrolled.
There is still a lot more unclear about Mr. Nicola, such as the true spelling of his name (some news outlets spelled it Jonathon) and how he was able to pose as a teenager. Coach Cusumano told CTV News Windsor that Mr. Nicola was a “kindhearted young man” and added, “At some point, I’m going to forgive him.”
At one hearing via video conference, according to The Globe and Mail, Mr. Nicola told the Immigration and Refugee Board: “I am not a liar person. I did not come here to harm any people or do something bad.”
When Canadian officials visited him in the principal’s office, he told them he wasn’t really sure how old he was, a government lawyer told a hearing. The lawyer said Mr. Nicola had been born in Saudi Arabia, where his father works as a mechanical engineer and his mother lives. Mr. Nicola also told the hearing that he had moved around a lot in South Sudan, and that his mother told him he was different ages.
The arrest prompted an outpouring on social media. One Twitter user, @omersulimann, wrote in part, “So you’re telling me this whole time I was playing hard defense on a man that could basically be my dad. …”
This article was selected for educational purposes only.
Jennifer M. Condaras
BIG EAST Conference
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