A young gay Ethiopian man has been released from immigration detention, where he had been confined since January after violating his student visa. If deported back to his native country, he would face prison, persecution, and possibly worse.
“This is a very serious deal,” said the student’s uncle, speaking anonymously from Canada, when the Boston Globe first reported on the story two weeks ago. “Back in his country, it will be like death.”
The man lost his student visa due to low grades. He has no criminal record. It is not clear whether immigration officials knew that he was gay, but he had posted it online and told friends. Coming out puts him in danger were he to be deported back to Ethiopia.
In that country, same-sex acts are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. If such an act leads to one party being infected with HIV by the other, the offender is eligible for a 25-year sentence. Additionally, Ethiopian lawmakers are set to pass a bill that would make homosexuality a “non-pardonable” offense.
The student’s advocates are trying to make sure that he can stay in the United States and out of danger.
“I’m ecstatic that he’s out,” said Todd Williams, a gay Republican running for state Senate in Worcester, told the Globe. “Now we’re in the process of getting him asylum.”
Lawyer Susan Church, who is representing the man for free, said he needs mental-health counseling that is not available in prison.
“I’m glad that the immigration officials saw that this young college student should have been released to pursue his case out of custody,” said Church.
The U.S. immigration system does not assign public defenders to people facing deportation. The man did not have a lawyer during initial hearings and struggled to communicate with the court. He also did not seek asylum.
Williams and nonprofits are helping the man find mental-health services and housing, as well as seek asylum. The man is wearing an electronic ankle bracelet as required by immigration officials.