Soto Vega v. Gonzales
Case arguing for a Mexican man to receive asylum in the United States after suffering severe antigay harassment and abuse in his native country
From an early age, Jorge Soto Vega suffered ongoing antigay harassment and abuse from his family and his community in Tuxpan, Mexico, because he is gay. After being detained and severely beaten by the police who, while calling him antigay names, threatened to kill him if they ever saw him again, Soto Vega fled to the United States. Here, he sought asylum based on the persecution he faced in his country of origin. In 2003, Soto Vega’s application for asylum was rejected by an immigration judge. Although the judge found credible evidence that Soto Vega was persecuted in Mexico because of his sexual orientation, he denied asylum because he thought Soto Vega didn’t “appear gay” and could keep his sexual orientation hidden if he chose to. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed that decision, and Lambda Legal took the case to the Ninth Circuit court of Appeals. We argued that asylum does not hinge on whether people can hide their religion, political beliefs, race or sexual orientation to avoid persecution. The U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the denial of asylum and sent the matter back to the immigration agency to finally determine whether Soto Vega had a well-founded fear of future persecution. The immigration judge concluded that no one should have to hide their sexual orientation to be safe and that the government had not shown that there was anywhere in Mexico where Soto Vega safely could relocate. He granted asylum to Soto Vega.
Since 1994, U.S. immigration law has recognized persecution based on sexual orientation as a ground for asylum. If an applicant proves that he or she suffered past persecution based on their sexual orientation, the burden is on the government to show that the applicant’s fear of future persecution is not well founded because of a fundamental change in country conditions or because the applicant reasonably could relocate safely to another part of the country.
Lambda Legal’s Impact
LGBT people who escape persecution in their homeland need strong precedents supporting their right to asylum in the United States. Our victory in this case (along with other recent successes) is helping to lay a firm groundwork for claims based on antigay persecution. This case also highlights why it is wrong for the government to force LGBT people to stay in the closet to survive.
- July 2002 Soto Vega applies for asylum.
- January 2003 Immigration judge denies asylum, concluding that, while Soto Vega was credible and had been persecuted based on his sexual orientation, he was not entitled to asylum because, in the judge’s view, Soto Vega did not appear gay and therefore would be safe if he relocated in Mexico and did not make an issue of his sexual orientation.
- October 2003 Lambda Legal submits a friend-of-the-court brief to the Board of Immigration Appeals in Washington, DC, urging it to overturn the denial of asylum to Soto Vega.
- January 2004 Board of Immigration Appeals upholds the immigration judge’s decision.
- February 2004 Lambda Legal petitions the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco for review, asking the court to reverse the immigration judge’s ruling and order federal officials to process the Soto Vega asylum application.
- October 2004 Lambda Legal files opening brief on appeal.
- June 2006 Ninth Circuit overturns the denial of asylum and remands the case to the immigration agency to determine in the first instance whether the government had rebutted the presumption that Soto Vega has a well-founded fear of future persecution.
- November 2006 Board of Immigration Appeals remands the matter to the Immigration Court for a further hearing.
- January 2007 Further asylum hearing before the Immigration Court.
- January 2007 Order entered granting Soto Vega asylum in the United States.