The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has given a man living with HIV a second chance to remain in the United States, after his case was denied by immigration authorities.
Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center and the law firm Winston & Strawn LLP represent Rigoberto Velasquez Banegas, and received amicus support from Lambda Legal and Quinn Emanuel.
Mr. Velasquez was detained by immigration authorities after a minor criminal offense. While detained, Mr. Velasquez explained that he feared returning to Honduras because he is HIV positive. This diagnosis, he explained, means two things for him in Honduras: that his physical safety will be in danger because he will be perceived of as gay, and that he will die for lack of access to life-sustaining medication.
The Seventh Circuit recognized that, while HIV is a virus that infects a wide variety of individuals, there is a widespread association of HIV with members of the LGBT community in Honduras. Based on this perception, the court acknowledged that Mr. Velasquez will be perceived as gay based on his HIV status and thereby at risk of serious violence in Honduras, as is the case for many members of the LGBT community in that country.
“This decision is important for immigrants living with HIV who fear they will be persecuted if they are deported to their home countries,” said Keren Zwick, managing attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. “Most significantly, it clearly establishes that relief from deportation is available for people living with HIV who face persecution in their countries of origin based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“I am just thankful that I don’t have to go back to Honduras right now,” said Mr. Velasquez. “Without the medical care I am able to receive here, I would die in Honduras. And even if I did not die from not getting medicine, my life would be at risk there just because of what people think about those of us who have HIV in Honduras.”
Mr. Velasquez will now have the opportunity to have an immigration judge reconsider his request for protection, based on the federal court’s analysis.