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Washington Post Examines Treatment of MSM, WSW In Mexico, Latin America, Ability to Access HIV Treatment, Seek Asylum in U.S.

August 12, 2008

Asylum applicants, U.S. lawyers and Hispanic advocates say it has become increasingly difficult for men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women from Mexico and other Latin American countries to obtain asylum in the U.S. because of the countries' improved treatment of homosexuality, liberalized laws and expanded HIV/AIDS treatment, according to the Washington Post. Arthur Leonard, a professor at New York Law School, said, "For a time, it seemed like it was a slam-dunk if you were gay, from Mexico and filed for asylum in the United States," adding, "But there's been a turning point. The gay rights movement has started to make progress in Mexico, and it's a little harder to show" that asylum is warranted.

Leaders throughout the region who consider asylum as way to access better treatment of people with HIV say the "subtle, unofficial shift in immigration policy" has significant public health implications, the Post reports. Although advocates praise the progress on rights for MSM and WSW in Latin America -- where it has been argued that the culture of "machismo" places them in danger -- they say that it may take decades to reverse "deeply ingrained" attitudes toward homosexuality, which some believe are linked with the spread of HIV in the region, according to the Post. According to the Post, there are no official figures for the number of such cases that have been granted asylum in the U.S. because the Department of Homeland Security does not track asylum cases by categories such as sexual orientation. DHS officials said that there has been no change in policy regarding asylum for MSM and WSW.

Jorge Saavedra -- director of Censida, the National Center for the Control of HIV/AIDS in Mexico -- said that MSM in Mexico have been most affected by HIV/AIDS and that homophobia has been the main cause of the epidemic. "People think the homophobia is under control, which is not true," Saavedra said, adding, 'Homophobia in Mexico is really high." According to Saavedra, although Mexico has a relatively low overall HIV/AIDS prevalence of 0.3% of the general population, routine medication shortages and discrimination and violence against MSM and WSW still necessitate some HIV-positive people's need for asylum.

The Post also reports that stigma and a lack of education have complicated prevention efforts and that some hospital patients and employees are routinely screened for HIV without permission. Martin Martinez Sanchez, who works at a private hospital in Mexico City where this practice takes place, said, "If they test positive, they are not admitted." The story profiles several experiences, including that of Arturo Lopez, an HIV-positive MSM, who has been trying to get asylum into the U.S. (Connolly, Washington Post, 8/12). The article was supported by a Kaiser Family Foundation mini reporting fellowship.

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