(CN) – An immigration board’s decision to deny a gay anti-Hugo Chavez activist’s request for asylum was “riddled with error” because it ignored the widespread violence and discrimination he faced in Venezuela, the 11th Circuit ruled.
The court granted the immigrant’s petition for review, since both the immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals “failed to provide a reasoned explanation” for denying relief.
Gay activist Leonel Euro Ayala applied for political asylum and relief under the Convention Against Torture in 2006. As an HIV-positive, gay political dissident, he testified before an immigration judge that he faced past and future threats and harassment by family, co-workers, police and supporters of Hugo Chavez’s government.
Ayala worked with two nonprofits dedicated to gay rights in Venezuela, but for years hid his sexuality from family and co-workers at a Caracas telecommunication company. After fellow employees saw him in a gay pride march in 2003, his manager told him he would never “be able to rise within the corporation” because “homosexuals [are] mentally deviated people.”
In 2004, Ayala says police officers assaulted him after he left a gay nightclub in Caracas. Earlier that day, Ayala says he attended an International AIDS Day vigil. He also says officers beat, robbed and handcuffed him, then detained him in a patrol car, placed a hood over his head, and forced him to perform oral sex on one of them.
“The police officers threatened to arrest Ayala for being homosexual and told Ayala they ‘could incarcerate [him] or plant drugs in [his] house and that was all as a result of being queer.'”
Then in 2005, after attending an anti-Chavez march, Ayala says members of the Bolivarian Circles, a pro-government workers’ council, attacked Ayala and stole his cell phone. When Ayala reported the incident to police, he says he was told “something worse than that should’ve happened for being a member of the government opposition.”
Following the attack, Ayala says he received a series of threatening phone calls telling him he “could wake up with flies in [his] mouth one morning.” Afraid to report the threats to police, Ayala moved to Miami and applied to Homeland Security for political asylum in February 2006.
In addition to presenting a personal history of violence and harassment, Ayala provided the immigration court with extensive documents about human rights abuses of gays and political dissidents in Venezuela. Despite this, the immigration judge denied Ayala’s petition on the ground that he “had not established past persecution on account of a protected ground or a well-founded fear of future persecution.”
The Board of Immigration Appeals agreed, concluding that “Venezuela’s gay community is a robust group that frequently marches without disruption or disturbance, and that tolerance and respect for the gay community in Venezuela is improving.”
On appeal, Circuit Judge William Pryor found the board’s decision to be deficient. Among other things, “neither the board nor the immigration judge even mentioned the police officers’ slurs about Ayala’s homosexuality.”
Instead, the Board “baldy asserted” that it agreed with the immigration judge that Ayala’s mistreatment did not rise to the level of persecution. In fact, the immigration judge made no such ruling.
The circuit granted Ayala’s petition for review and remanded his case.