Lambda Legal Secures Asylum for Gay Mexican Immigrant

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"The court emphasized that you shouldn't have to hide your sexual orientation 'whether you're gay or straight' in order to avoid being persecuted."
January 30, 2007

(Los Angeles, January 30, 2007) — Lambda Legal announces that, after a hearing before an immigration judge earlier today, it has secured asylum for a man who had suffered death threats and beatings from police and others in his native Mexico because he is gay.

“The court emphasized that you shouldn’t have to hide your sexual orientation — whether you’re gay or straight — in order to avoid being persecuted,” said Jon W. Davidson, Legal Director of Lambda Legal and lead attorney on the case. “This is the happy ending we’ve been hoping for throughout the labyrinthine process of seeking asylum for this man who had been told he’d be killed because of his sexual orientation if he returned home to Mexico.”

Lambda Legal represents Jorge Soto Vega, a 38-year-old man originally from Tuxpan, Mexico, who faced severe harassment and violence from the community and his family from an early age. As a teenager he moved to Guadalajara where he thought he’d be safer than in his hometown. But while living in Guadalajara, Soto Vega was severely beaten by police who threatened to kill him if they saw him again because they wanted to get rid of gay people. Fearing for his life, Soto Vega fled Mexico and made his way to Los Angeles and ultimately to New York where he now resides.

In 2003, a Southern California immigration judge ruled that there was credible evidence that Soto Vega was persecuted in Mexico because of his sexual orientation, but rejected his application for asylum in the United States because Soto Vega didn’t appear gay to him and, in the judge’s opinion, he could pass as straight if he so chose. After the Board of Immigration Appeals summarily affirmed that opinion, Lambda Legal in 2004 petitioned the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco for review. On June 2, 2006, the Ninth Circuit held that both the immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals decided incorrectly by not recognizing that, because Soto Vega had been persecuted in the past, he was entitled to a presumption that he had a well-founded fear of future persecution were he forced to return to Mexico. The Ninth Circuit further held that it was the government’s burden to show that Soto Vega’s life would not be in jeopardy if he were forced to return home to the country where his life had been threatened in the past. The decision by the immigration judge after today’s hearing concluded that the government had not been able to refute that presumption and that Soto Vega therefore is entitled to asylum in the United States.

“For the first time in my life, I can live freely knowing that I don’t have to fear for my life simply because I’m gay,” said Soto Vega. “The court has awarded me my freedom and the opportunity to spend my life in the country I love with the person I love,” he continued, referring to his partner of 15 years, Frank Castelluccio.

Asylum for gay people fearing their lives in their home countries made headlines last year when it was reported that Iran had killed gay teenagers for having consensual sex. Last October, Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk who first said she would deport gay Iranians back to their native country changed her position and said gay Iranians who “fear being prosecuted or suffering inhuman treatment” would receive asylum in the Netherlands. In 2005, the Ninth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a gay Lebanese man is eligible for asylum in the United States because he could face persecution, including death, in his home country.

Jon W. Davidson, Legal Director at Lambda Legal, is Soto Vega’s lead attorney, and Staff Attorneys Tara Borelli and Brian Chase and Senior Staff Attorney Jack Senterfit assisted him in Soto Vega v. Gonzales. Los Angeles immigration attorney Ally Bolour also assisted, pro bono, in the immigration court.

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Mark Roy: 212-809-8585 ext.267

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.


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