A gay Ugandan asylum seeker has been freed from detention in California after a campaign by his friends.
Joseph Bukombe had been held at an Otay Mesa, San Diego detention facility for nearly two years.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Bukombe told 10News.
Eight years ago, he arrived in San Diego from Uganda and came out as a gay man but was afraid to go home. He said his work visa expired several years ago.
He says that during the time he has lived in California, a mob beat one of his friends to death in Uganda.
“I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to go back and die,” he said.
LGBT Ugandans have come under increasing threat from the state and society following the introduction of the notorious ‘Kill the Gays’ bill into the parliament.
In early 2010, Bukombe was stopped for a DUI after eating Jell-O at a birthday party.
“I knew I was driving, so I was trying to be careful. I didn’t know the Jell-O had alcohol in it,” he said.
Bukombe was detained and faced deportation. He hired an attorney, but could not pay for him.
After languishing for several years, Bukombe discovered a $20,000 bail had been set early in the process.
Hector Martinez, a friend of a friend, started a campaign supporting Bukombe, including a petition drive.
“We think either paperwork got sent to the wrong address or the attorney never informed him,” said Martinez.
Martinez raised $6,000 and took out a loan for the remainder of the bail.
“Thanks to all the 70 donors who contributed to bail for Joseph Bukombe who was released from Otay Mesa last night,” the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle wrote in an email to friends and supporters on Christmas Eve.
“He enjoyed his first meal with friends in San Diego at a Kenyan restaurant with friends and wanted to express his deep appreciation to everyone who helped to secure his release after two years in prison,” Ogle wrote.
“Joseph and his close friend Hector Martinez will be attending Midnight Mass at St. Paulís Cathedral tonight in San Diego,” Ogle said.
However, Bukombe still faces deportation hearings.
“It’s clear I will die,” said Bukombe of being returned to Uganda. “I’m scared for the future, but at least I have hope.”
U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement have told 10News about Bukombe’s case:
“Over the course of the last year, Mr. Bukombe’s immigration case has undergone extensive review by judges at multiple levels of our legal system. In those proceedings, the courts have held that he has failed to establish a legal basis to remain in the United States. ICE is now in the process of seeking to carry out the deportation order handed down by the immigration court.”
Supporters are also pushing a congressional bill that could allow him to stay. Bukombe’s supporters say that they are hopeful because of the Obama Administration’s new policy toward LGBT immigrants who face persecution or the threat of death in their homeland.
Picture of Joseph courtesy SDGLN