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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has released two asylum seekers living with HIV from a Texas detention facility after LGBTQ advocates expressed concerns over the men’s health and safety, especially amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The men, known by the pseudonyms “Iván” and “Ramón, fled to the United States seeking asylum after being persecuted in Cuba because of their political activism protesting some of the Communist regime’s policies, as well as their sexual orientation and HIV status. They have been held in the IAH Secure Adult Detention Facility in West Livingston, Texas, since October 2019.
The LGBTQ organizations Lambda Legal and Immigration Equality sent a letter to ICE demanded the release of Iván and Ramón, citing a federal judge’s decision ordering ICE to identify and release all ICE detainees who might be more vulnerable to COVID-19-related infections — which can spread in small, contained areas where detainees can’t frequently wash their hands. The potentially vulnerable include people over the age of 60, those who are pregnant or have given birth in the past two weeks, or those “of any age having chronic illnesses,” including HIV, “which would make them immune-compromised.”
Lawyers for the men say they have traveled to Miami, and are staying with a sponsor following their release. They say they hope that Iván and Ramón will be able complete their application for asylum, and eventually receive it, without having to re-enter ICE custody — even once the pandemic subsides and infection rates decrease.
“We are thrilled that Iván and Ramón can pursue their asylum claims without the fear of unnecessary and inevitable exposure to the coronavirus in ICE detention facilities,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Puneet Cheema said in a statement. “There are too many people who continue to be detained in detention centers, prisons and jails, who are not being given sufficient means and ability to protect themselves. These facilities have a responsibility to release as many people as they can, and keep those in their custody safe.”
“We are relieved that Iván and Ramón don’t have to spend one more day in the dangerous conditions of ICE detention, terrified of contracting COVID-19,” Bridget Crawford, the legal director for Immigration Equality, said in a statement. “We are happy they are now safe and free, but lament the fact they were not released months ago. ICE has a moral obligation to free other asylum seekers like Iván and Ramón. They can and should release every single one of them today.”
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