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Newsweek: Desperately Seeking Freedom

Newsweek has just published a new story on the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people seeking asylum in the United States, and highlights an Immigration Equality client and the organization’s work to assist LGBT asylum seekers.

The magazine’s story recounts the story of “Luiz,” a gay Brazilian man who turned to Immigration Equality for help.

“Waiting for his bus home, a car pulled up, and a man rolled down the window and asked, ‘Are you gay?’ Luiz responded, ‘No,’ but the men weren’t convinced,” the magazine reports. “They forced Luiz into the car, held a gun to his head, and played Russian roulette. Luiz lost consciousness, thinking he was going to die. He awoke hours later in a local hospital with 21 stitches in his head, having been beaten. The attack left him with more than just stitches and the possibility of a large facial scar—the left side of Luiz’s face was paralyzed. The stress and severity of the beating appeared to have triggered Bell’s palsy, a form of temporary facial paralysis. Because corruption among the police force in some parts of Brazil is widespread, he chose not to report the attack. Deciding that he could no longer live safely as a gay man in Brazil, Luiz sought asylum in the United States. He booked a flight to Florida and contacted Immigration Equality—a nonprofit organization that helps lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-positive people with immigration and asylum questions—and the group helped him immigrate.”

“‘For straights [Brazil] is dangerous, but for gays it’s worse,’” Luiz, 42, told Newsweek. “Though he hasn’t talked to his family in close to 25 years because of their disapproval of homosexuality, coming to the United States has allowed Luiz to begin a new life, one in which he can openly live as a gay man.”

“When sexual orientation became an option in 1994, the Internet was in its infancy, and it was difficult for people to find out they could seek safe haven in the U.S.,” Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, told the magazine. “Now we are seeing a steady increase.” Last week the nonprofit won its 60th case of the year, and it has several others still pending. Immigration Equality won 55 cases in 2008 and 30 cases in 2007.

“Individuals from many different nations seek asylum in the United States based on sexual orientation, but Caribbean countries are a particularly common point of origin, Tiven says, pointing out that her organization has handled more cases from Jamaica than the next three countries combined.”

“Those seeking asylum based on sexual orientation must present evidence to prove their sexuality,” the story continues. “Testimony of family, friends, or partners can be submitted. Medical records, police reports, newspaper articles, and e-mails may also be sufficient.”

“You must be able to convince the immigration judge you are who you say you are,” Tiven says. “You can also demonstrate [that] the country’s conditions [under which you're living] are severe.”

And for Luiz, the help he received from Immigration Equality resulted in an important asylum victory and a new start in the United States.

“On Oct. 28, Luiz was officially granted asylum by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which he celebrated by having friends over for a drink,” the story concludes. “He still suffers from low self-esteem because of his partial facial paralysis, but his newly acquired citizenship has given him the ability to be open about who he is, and has allowed him to pursue his dream: to become a chef.”