News & Politics

ICE Keeps Gay Man Fleeing Persecution in Detainment for Four Months

The ACLU called his detainment "cruel and unjust."

Photo Credit: NBC Philadelphia

 Jose “Ivan” Nuñez, arrested in Philadelphia by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during an routine interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is now approaching his fifth month of detention. Nuñez, an undocumented immigrant originally from Mexico, had gone to the January 31 interview as part of a process to gain legal status through his U.S. citizen husband, Paul Frame. It was supposed to be a routine interview. “It was anything but routine”:

Since Jan. 31, Ivan has been locked up by ICE at a prison facility in York, Pennsylvania. He has been given no opportunity to explain to an immigration judge why his confinement is unnecessary. Ivan doesn't understand why ICE is imprisoning him. Neither does Paul or anyone else who knows Ivan.

“In the meantime,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports, “detention is taking a heavy toll. Ivan has been losing weight, losing sleep, at times fearing for his safety in ICE custody. Paul has been suffering, too,” worrying about what could happen to his husband in detention—and what could happen to him if he’s torn from him and deported.

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“He thought he would be safer here in the U.S.,” said the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Reggie Shuford. “His detention is cruel and unjust, and it discourages people who have a legal path to staying here from pursuing it.”

According to research, “the horrific abuse that LGBTQ immigrants face in detention facilities is well-documented. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nonheterosexual people are more than twice as likely as the general population to be sexually assaulted while in confinement”:

From 2009 to 2013, 1 in 5 substantiated allegations of sexual assault in ICE detention facilities had a transgender victim. In addition to sexual assault, LGBTQ people in detention face verbal and physical abuse; prolonged solitary confinement; and the withholding of critical health care needs, such as hormone therapy or HIV medication.

Nuñez fled Mexico 17 years ago, when he was just 21 and fearing “for his life. He'd received violent threats because of his sexual orientation, and a gay friend of his there was murdered.” The openly gay man fears what could happen to him if he’s deported to a country that he no longer considers his home:

Initially, ICE claimed it had authority to detain Ivan because of his old removal order. However, because Ivan expressed a reasonable and credible fear of persecution in Mexico due to his sexual orientation, his case was referred to an immigration court to decide if he deserves protection against removal to Mexico. Those immigration court proceedings are continuing and could take many months or even years to complete.

According to the ACLU, “ICE has not explained why Ivan needs to be detained pending his immigration court proceedings. The ACLU of Pennsylvania, together with the law firm of DLA Piper, LLP, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Ivan's behalf, asking a federal district court either to order Ivan's release or order that he be given a bond hearing where he can demonstrate why his detention is unnecessary.”

“I am very worried for his well-being,” Frame said. “The level of anxiety and sadness that I feel when I think about him at the detention center or when I visit him is unreal.” What’s also unreal is the government punishing people fleeing persecution, and the government also punishing people who are trying to follow the rules by going to their appointments to adjust their status.