Immigration frees gay Ethiopian man after 2 months

The Boston GlobeMarch 31, 2014 

U.S. immigration officials released a gay Ethiopian man without bail Monday, two weeks after the Globe reported that he was facing deportation to a nation in Africa where same-sex conduct could land him in prison.

The 19-year-old had been jailed since January, shortly after he lost his student visa, reportedly because of low grades. Though it was unclear whether immigration officers knew that he is gay, the man had told friends and posted it online, disclosures the man’s uncle said could endanger him back home.

Gay people in Ethiopia face abuse and even prison time for offenses related to same-sex conduct, according to Amnesty International.

“I’m ecstatic that he’s out,” said Todd Williams, a gay Republican running for state Senate in Worcester, and one of two people the young man had told that he is gay. “Now we’re in the process of getting him asylum.”

Advocates for immigrants had said the Ethiopian man’s case reflected the risks in the U.S. immigration system, which does not assign public defenders to people facing deportation. During his initial hearings, the man did not have a lawyer and did not seek asylum in immigration court. The immigration judge had also ordered a mental-health review for the man, because he struggled to communicate with the court.

Williams said he and nonprofits will help the man seek counseling, housing and asylum so that he can stay in the United States. Williams said that federal immigration officials are requiring the man to wear an electronic tracking device on his ankle.

Susan Church, one of two lawyers representing the man for free, said the man needs mental-health services that the jail cannot provide.

“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, who is co-counsel with Kira Gagarin.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, did not respond to requests for comment. ICE pursued the man’s deportation days after President Barack Obama criticized a harsh new antigay law in Uganda.

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