Immigration News: Los Angeles Gay Immigrant Dennis Vitug Gets Stay of Deportation
Good news recently arrived for a Los Angeles based gay Filipino immigrant Dennis Vitug. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco granted a reprieve from a deportation order that would have sent him back to his native Philippines. The court ruled in Vitug's favor due to his credible fear that he would experience persecution in the Philippines if he were to return due to his sexual orientation. As Judge Harry Pregerson of the Ninth Circuit stated in his opinion, "The evidence compels the conclusion that Vitug will more likely than not be persecuted if he is removed to the Philippines."

A Personal History of Persecution

This decision was derived from a long-standing legal precedent that protects all gay-identified immigrants with a fear of returning to their home countries. Vitug's personal history in the Philippines personified this fear of persecution due to his long history with discrimination. In 1991, a volcanic eruption destroyed his family home. However, his relatives would not assist him or give him shelter after the disaster due to his homosexuality and effeminate nature. After moving to Manila alone at the age of 16, he was a repeated victim of beatings, robberies, and police abuse. His sexual orientation also prevented him from acquiring steady work. After entering the United States in 1999 on a temporary visa, he worked as an Assistant Designer for a Sherman Oaks hotel and as a shipping clerk while studying fashion design in Southern California.

However, Vitug's time in the United States also had its struggles. In 2001, Vitug became addicted to methamphetamine. Although he sought counseling, he relapsed several times, leading to a string of drug-related arrests. Finally, in 2005, Vitug was diagnosed with HIV. Soon after, he was arrested for drug possession and overstaying his temporary visa. At that time, he was sentenced to a year in jail.

Legal Troubles Lead to Deportation Attempt

Eight months into his incarceration, the United States Department of Homeland Security decided that they wanted to deport Vitug to his native Philippines. An immigration judge disagreed with the Department of Homeland Security, stating that there was probable cause to believe that Vitug would be discriminated against or tortured if he returned home. Later, the Board of Immigration Appeals reversed the initial decision, stating that Vitug had failed to prove that he had a credible fear of torture if he were to go back to the Philippines.

Finally, in July 2013, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of deportation. According to the Ninth Circuit, Vitug did fail to prove a fear of torture; however, the Ninth Circuit held that fear of discrimination because of sexual orientation in a person's home country is grounds to stay deportation. They further disagreed with the Board of Immigration Repeals by stating that there is no evidence that "there is any less violence against gay men or that police have become more responsive to reports of antigay hate crime" in the Philippines since 1999 when Vitug first entered the United States.

Despite the order to stop the deportation of Vitug, the decision does not give him a new basis for applying for a change of immigration status. Thus, while Vitug is allowed to stay and work in the United States, his immigration process is far from over.

Immigration is undoubtedly a complex issue. But with more immigrants entering the United States for a better life every day and with more communities becoming majority-minority with each passing year, it seems that communities are best served when people are allowed to stay where they feel safe and protected. For many gay immigrants, both here in Los Angeles and throughout the country, the United States offers a needed safe haven from homophobia, discrimination, and violence if those gay immigrants were to return to the countries they used to call home.

Last reviewed on: 07/25/2013
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