Last Tuesday, a gay, HIV-positive Mexican immigrant named Carlos Bringas-Rodriguez, 27, was allowed by the U.S. government to fly back from Mexico to his American-citizen husband, Michael Young, and his 12-year-old female cousin whom they are raising as a daughter.
But the reunion came only after a nightmare in which Bringas-Rodriguez was detained in Kansas on Dec. 20 and, days later, all but dumped at the Mexican border with a limited supply of HIV meds and his cell phone.
On the eight-hour flight, a government charter filled with other immigrants being deported, Bringas-Rodriguez was shackled and not allowed to go to the bathroom, according to Bringas-Rodriguez's lawyer, Munmeeth Soni, co-legal director at the LA-based Immigrant Defenders Law Center.
"He's been really traumatized and shaken up," she said. "Immigration officers were making fun of him and only allowed him to finally call his husband because he was crying uncontrollably."
The ordeal is the latest chapter in Bringas-Rodriguez's eight-year fight to secure legal asylum in the U.S. in order to avoid a continuation of what he says was repeated rape and sexual abuse by relatives and neighbors in his hometown of Veracruz. In 2013, the Ninth Circuit court of appeals ruled in his favor after immigration courts had formerly ruled against him, saying he failed to show that he would be at risk in Mexico.
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Since then, Bringas-Rodriguez has had to check in regularly with ICE, the U.S. immigration agency.
According to Soni, the deportation was triggered when Bringas-Rodriguez missed a court hearing for which he never received notification. Soon after, Soni and Rekha Sharma-Crawford, Rodriguez's other attorney, reached out to the Ninth Circuit, which issued a writ demanding that the U.S. government immediately get him his HIV meds and bring him back to his husband in Kansas City.
"In Mexico, petitioner is currently terrified and holed-up in a hotel and quickly running out of his HIV medications," read the writ, as reported by The Washington Blade.
"[H]e has no way to get these medications when they run out in the next [nine] days," it continued. "Since petitioner was not allowed to contact anyone immediately prior to his removal and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] calculatingly kept that information from his attorneys and his family, no one was able to make medical arrangements for petitioner."
Now, Bringas-Rodriguez returns to having legal asylum in the U.S. Ordinarily, he would be able to be sponsored for a Green Card by his husband, but Bringas-Rodriguez is barred from doing that for ten years because he entered the country without legal status twice as an adolescent.
Mexico provides HIV treatment and care but, said Soni, Bringas-Rodriguez's HIV status makes him even more vulnerable to persecution there.
Bringas-Rodriguez's case speaks to two larger issues, said Soni. One is that, under Trump, ICE has been emboldened to step up deportations -- even sometimes, such as in Rodriguez's case, in the face of court orders against them.
In the past year of Trump's presidency, both ICE arrests and deportations have surged. (Deportations have not yet reached the levels of Obama's first term, however.)
"This is what we're seeing throughout the country," said Soni. "It's not a coincidence that this should happen at a time when we're seeing DHS viciously and deliberately pursuing immigration activists with a public presence. DHS is basically saying that, regardless of what a federal court may have ordered, [immigrants] are still fair game for deportation."
The other issue at hand, she said, is the lack of attorneys to take on such cases. "If Bringas didn't have counsel in this case, he'd still be sitting in Mexico -- despite his compliance with his asylum hearings, the court ruling, and his marriage to a U.S. citizen."
New York State, said Soni, has set a new model by starting a public-private legal defense fund for immigrants. The nonprofit Vera Institute, she said, has started the Safe Cities Network to try to replicate the model nationwide.
"Within the immigration court system," she said, "if you're poor and unable to pay for private counsel, you often don't have access to counsel." She urges readers to call their senators expressing their support for such state-level legal defense funds.