Board of Immigration Appeals Grants Asylum to HIV-Positive Man from Mexico

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June 25, 2015

The Board of Immigration Appeals has granted asylum to a Mexican man based on persecution he would experience in Mexico because he is HIV-positive and therefore likely would be perceived as gay.

Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center represented Roberto Santin, with amicus support from Lambda Legal and the HIV Law Project. Mr. Santin came into ICE custody just months after he received his life-changing diagnosis.  He then fought for asylum while detained for more than two years.

“Despite some positive changes in the law in Mexico, the country remains dangerous for individuals who are or who are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender,” said Keren Zwick, managing attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. “The Board’s decision is significant for its recognition that persecution of LGBT people persists in Mexico and that those who are perceived to be LGBT, particularly those who are HIV-positive, are vulnerable to such abuse.”

Mr. Santin was represented by Hena Mansori, an attorney with NIJC’s Detention Project.

The Board’s unpublished decision acknowledges the significant evidence Mr. Santin submitted demonstrating “that gay men are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS” and expert testimony which explained that in Mexico, men with HIV are perceived to be gay. The Board concluded that Mr. Santin had established that he has a well-founded fear of persecution based on perceived membership in the LGBT community.

Thanks to this positive decision, Mr. Santin was released from custody on Monday. “I am thankful for the work that has been done in my case, and I am happy that I will be able to remain in the United States,” Mr. Santin said.

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan and Scott Schoettes of Lambda Legal provided significant support for Mr. Santin’s case, which was appealed to the Board twice before being resolved. "We are thrilled by the Board's decision,” Mr. Gonzalez-Pagan said. “It is not only a life-saving victory for Roberto, but also a big victory for LGBT immigrants and immigrants living with HIV.  This opinion clearly establishes that relief from deportation is available for people living with HIV who face persecution in their countries of origin based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. We believe that this decision will further help LGBT immigrants and immigrants living with HIV who are detained or at risk of deportation."

Read the press release.

With offices in Chicago, Indiana, and Washington, D.C., Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. Visit

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.