Citing persecution, judge grants gay Mexican immigrant asylum in U.S.

Times Staff Writer

An immigration judge granted a Mexican immigrant asylum, citing his sexual orientation and the severe persecution of gays in Mexico, the immigrant’s lawyer said Tuesday.

Jorge Soto Vega, 38, said he had suffered harassment and violence from family members and authorities in Mexico because he is gay.

According to court documents, while living in Guadalajara, Soto Vega was beaten by police with a “metal baton or flashlight” and then robbed, called “anti-gay slurs” and told that he would be killed if he was ever seen again.

In 1988, Soto Vega paid a smuggler to sneak him into the United States, and he settled in the Hollywood and Silver Lake areas. In 2001, Soto Vega returned from a brief visit to Mexico after his mother’s death, during which he said he was afraid to go outside. He said he found out about the asylum process upon his return and filed an application the following year.

Soto Vega’s request for asylum was denied in 2003 by immigration judge John D. Taylor, who said he could return to Mexico since “it would not be obvious that he was homosexual unless he made it obvious himself.”

The case was returned to Taylor after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it is the government’s responsibility to prove Soto Vega had no “well-founded fear of persecution” in Mexico.

At the hearing Tuesday, the judge agreed that a person should not have to conceal his or her sexual orientation in order to be free from persecution, said Jon W. Davidson, legal director at Lambda Legal, a nonprofit gay-rights group. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency waived the right to appeal in the case, spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.

Davidson, who represented Soto Vega, said there was “overwhelming testimony showing severe persecution of gays in all areas of Mexico and therefore the inability of [Soto Vega] to move safely to any other area.”

“He’s a 38-year-old man who is not married and has never been married. In Mexico, that means you’re gay,” Davidson said.

Citing strict confidentiality provisions regarding asylum cases, Kice would not comment on the decision.

Soto Vega, who moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., to be near his partner’s family about four years ago, said he can now live without fear of deportation.

“It’s been a long, long wait to get to this point where I feel today, secure and happy,” Soto Vega said.