Ivan “Max” Flores Acosta, 26, of New York City is the poster boy for what’s wrong with immigration reform in the United States, particularly in how it pertains to the LGBT community.
Acosta is one of an estimated 1 million LGBT adult immigrants living in the U.S. and he is one of an estimated 333,000 LGBT adult immigrants who are undocumented; the figures are provided by the Human Rights Campaign. Many of these immigrants are natives of nations where gays are discriminated against, persecuted, or even imprisoned, tortured or killed by homophobic regimes.
Since March 15, Acosta has been detained by the government, currently at the Otay Detention Facility in a remote area of San Diego County, and he says he has been denied medicine that is crucial to his health and well-being. He thinks his case won’t even be reviewed for another month, at the very least.
Back in New York is his fiancé Donald Ziccardi, who feels helpless and frustrated by a system that sees every case as black and white without looking at the gray areas of injustice.
Acosta has lived in the United States since he was 13 years old when his family legally came from Mexico to South Carolina. And he lives in New York, a state where marriage equality is legal. Acosta and Ziccardi have been planning to get married, but let slide their options of New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day nuptials before deciding on a spring wedding. Those joyful plans are now dashed by uncertainty.
A legal marriage is not the savior for Acosta and Ziccardi, since the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) discriminates against gay and lesbian couples who marry and prohibits LGBT American citizens who marry foreigners from sponsoring their legal spouse for a green card. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently deciding on the constitutionality of DOMA, and is expected to render a decision before the end of June. That decision may come too late to affect Acosta's case.
HRC estimates that there are more than 32,000 LGBT binational couples living in the U.S. today. Because of DOMA, those couples are being split apart after visas expire or whenever the government figures the immigrant has overstayed.
For the past 13 years, Acosta has been living in that gray area of the law, a DREAMer who has been studying in college with hopes of becoming a lawyer. As immigration reform has percolated again as a national priority, most Americans are sympathetic to cases like Acosta’s where the undocumented immigrant has been a productive member of society and stayed clean of the law.
But Acosta was falsely accused of shoplifting a moisturizer he had actually pulled out of his gym bag while he was inside a pharmacy, and hauled off to a police precinct where he was later told that he would be released because there was no case. Unfortunately for Acosta, police bookings require fingerprinting, and that’s how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) got involved because his visa expired in 2011.
Acosta was eventually whisked off to Brownsville, Texas, and deported across the Rio Grande to Matamoros in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Acosta hasn’t lived in Mexico since he was 13 and has no friends or family there to take care of him. He also has no place to live, no money, no job. He was alone in a country that was a stranger to him, and he was desperate to return home to his fiancé.
Several deportees took a bus across northern Mexico to Tijuana, and from there made their way to the border city of El Centro, Calif. Acosta said he decided to ask for political asylum when he got detained, because he feels unsafe as an openly gay man in Mexico.
Since his detention, Acosta has filed a complaint against ICE for guard harassment and brutality. He has also accused ICE of depriving him of medicine to prevent seizures and a flare-up of colitis.
Today across the United States, LGBT organizations such as GetEQUAL are hosting events dedicating to inspiring immigration reform. Click here to find EVENTS near you. The highlight is a rally in Washington, D.C.
This week, HRC kicked off a new Immigration Blog series.
If you participate in one of these events today, do it for Max. He deserves better. And do it for Don. He just wants to marry his fiancé and live happily ever after.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.