Read the update to this story here.
Another heartbreaking immigration story is unfolding in Oregon and it’s affecting Portland’s LGBTQ community.
Luis Garcia, a 32-year-old widowed gay man, was taken into custody at his home by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency on November 15, 2016, at 6 a.m. He was denied release by ICE despite his eligibility for bond and/or release in Portland, Oregon.
Luis is a registered nurse providing hospice care to seniors in Marquis Mt. Tabor. He has legally lived in the U.S. for the past 15 years.
If he is deported to his native Venezuela, it will be a death sentence for him as openly gay man. Aside from having laws on the books criminalizing gay relationships, Venezuela will not provide him with the life-saving medications he needs to live with HIV. He has been against the oppressive government of Venezuela and opposition is not tolerated. His deportation will add insult to injury after being a battered and abused spouse at the hands of his late U.S. citizen husband.
“My heart is breaking,” explained Sean Sexton, his boyfriend. “He is the kindest, sweetest man. He also is wonderful nurse taking care of seniors in their final months and weeks of their lives. He has tried to do everything right—he paid taxes for 15 years, maintained his legal residency, he’s bilingual and done everything to be legal. ICE came to our door at six in the morning and took him. He’s been in locked up at the Tacoma detention center ever since.”
“Luis has faith in the judicial and executive systems of the United States,” said N. David Shamloo, Luis’s immigration defense attorney. “He knows he is still in the best, but not perfect system compared to the rest of the world, including his home country of Venezuela where there is very little due process or regard for human rights. He knows he will have his day in court to ask for release and present a defense in his deportation proceedings before an Immigration Judge. But make no mistake he will fighting for his life,”
Luis made his way to the United States at age 17, accepting he would not be safe in Venezuela as an out gay man. Traveling on a tourist visa, he visited family in Florida and then eventually made his way to San Francisco, where he began nursing school and received a student visa to stay in the U.S. He worked his way through college as a server, earned an Associate’s Degree and now is a Registered Nurse. In San Francisco he met his eventual late husband. They moved to Portland when his late husband’s employer transferred him to its Oregon office. In 2013, they married legally in Washington state.
Marital bliss was short-lived, however, when his late husband became addicted to drugs and eventually lost his job. Luis too began to use, but chose to enroll in drug rehabilitation to get clean. After his rehab, Luis was reconciled to the fact that his relationship likely would not survive.
In March of this year, he returned to their Beaverton home and found his husband high and deteriorating. In an effort to save his life, he tried to remove the drugs from their home, but his late husband resisted and beat him. Luis called 9-1-1 and his late husband was arrested for drug possession. Two weeks later, the Washington County District Attorney opted to charge Luis as well, because he technically held the drugs in his hands as he tried to remove them from their home. He was eventually convicted of possession, but given bench probation or unsupervised probation because of his exemplary record.
Luis sought to begin again. He returned to work at Marquis, where he was being groomed for a promotion. He left his late husband, began dating Sean and started a new chapter seeking love and peace.
Luis is being detained in Northwest Detention Center, located in Tacoma, WA. In just nine days, Luis has racked up more than $500 in expenses on phone calls and living essentials. The drug possession conviction was the cause for his arrest by ICE, detention at the NWDC and ongoing deportation proceedings.
“I was completely unaware of how inhumane our immigration system was,” Sean said. “It’s filled mostly women and children. Unlike Luis, many don’t speak English and I can’t imagine many can they find the resources to pay the exorbitant expenses they charge the detainees. It’s immoral what our country is doing here.”
To help pay for his legal expenses, Sean is selling Luis’s car. He also has set up a legal fund online for community members who might want to contribute. To learn more, click here.