Two weeks before UCSB’s June graduation ceremonies, Alagie Jammeh finally received a letter from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granting him political asylum in the United States. In September 2014, the international student had lost his Gambian-government-funded scholarship to study at the university, and with it his visa, after he posted to his Facebook page, “No one should be denied their fundamental human rights because of their sexuality.”
That post resulted in an order to return to the Republic of Gambia, where his uncle — ruthlessly homophobic president Yahya Jammeh — demanded an apology. Alagie was berated by his parents and his 17 siblings. A trip home would’ve meant the end of Alagie’s freedom and the shuttering of his dream to be the first in his family to graduate college. “The reason most people in the Gambia have this belief that homosexuality is bad is because they haven’t met one person who is homosexual,” said Jammeh, who met many openly gay people in the U.S.
The revocation of Gambian support led to Jammeh sleeping in his car, showering at the Rec Cen, and being rejected from countless scholarships because of his undocumented status. Fearing his deportation after a police officer scolded him for sleeping in his car, Jammeh finally told university administrators of his situation. When they asked him why he remained silent for so long, he said, “I wanted to see if I could solve this problem by myself.”
Jammeh filed his first asylum application in April 2015, but it was riddled with spelling mistakes made by his first lawyer. For the past four months, Jammeh has driven every Friday to the Public Counsel in Los Angeles, where pro bono lawyers compiled his second application and he prepared for a four-hour interview with immigration officials. “I was nervous. It was scary. I didn’t know what to expect.”
“Most people think they know me. They don’t actually, because for a year here I have gone through a lot,” said Jammeh, who reached his lowest point while penning his suicide note on Goleta Pier at 2 a.m. one night. A phone call from a friend brought him back to reality. Jammeh decided to sleep in his car as long as it took. “I’m going to keep advocating for equality for all people, not just for gay people, but for women, for children, for minority communities. I’m going to advocate for them.”