Why Is ICE Detaining a Gay Man Fleeing Persecution?

Golnaz Fakhimi is an Immigrants' Rights Attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania

Jose "Ivan" Noe Nuñez Martinez is a 37-year old gay man who fled his native Mexico in 2001, when he was about 21 years old, because he feared for his life. He'd received violent threats because of his sexual orientation, and a gay friend of his there was murdered.  

In 2010, Ivan traveled back to Mexico to visit his mother, whom he feared was close to dying. After that brief trip, he tried to re-enter the United States. Agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended him at the border and removed him pursuant to an expedited removal order. Nevertheless, Ivan's persistent fear for his life in Mexico soon caused him to try again to re-enter the United States, which he did.  

For nearly 17 years, Ivan has lived a peaceful and productive life in this country. He has paid income taxes and has worked unflinchingly hard. Above all, he has cherished his ability to live his life here in relative safety as an openly gay man. In 2014, Ivan met Paul Frame, the love of his life. They married in 2016 in a ceremony before their loved ones and friends. They count their wedding day as among the happiest of their lives.   

To ensure their continued life together in the United States, Paul, a U.S. citizen, began the process of trying to sponsor Ivan to become a permanent resident. On Jan. 31, 2018, he and Ivan attended what they thought would be a routine marriage interview at an office of U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services in Philadelphia. It was anything but routine. Agents of Immigration & Customs Enforcement entered the office mid-interview and arrested Ivan, shocking and horrifying both him and Paul.   

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.

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.   

In the meantime, 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. He worries constantly about Ivan's physical safety, health, and mental well-being in detention. 

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. 

The United States should be a refuge for people who are fleeing persecution. We want the court to uphold that promise.

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