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Gay Nigerian wins asylum in the United States

Gay Nigerian wins asylum in the United States

A gay Nigerian man who fled his native country last year and was held for 11 months while he awaited asylum in the United States has won the right to stay. "Ojo," who withheld his real name, said he feared for his life in Nigeria after an angry mob murdered his second partner upon discovering that the two men were romantically involved. He arrived in New York without immigration documents and was immediately taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The gay advocacy group Immigration Equality soon met with Ojo and secured pro bono legal representation for him. In March 2004, Ojo's request for asylum was rejected in large part because he was unable to present documentary evidence corroborating his claim. But his attorney, Elise Schwarz of Caro and Associates, helped him obtain his slain partner's death certificate, and a key witness stepped forward to testify on his behalf. Schwarz made a motion to the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen the case and present the new evidence. The board granted the motion, and last week Ojo had a new hearing. Ruling that his life would be at risk if he returned to Nigeria, the immigration judge granted Ojo asylum. "I'm just so grateful to Ms. Schwarz and to Immigration Equality," Ojo said after his release from custody. "Without their help, I don't even want to think about what could have happened to me." Schwarz, who has represented two previous asylum seekers, said this was her hardest case. "It's amazing the hurdles that detained asylum seekers have to overcome," she said. "If Ojo didn't have people who cared about him in the U.S. and in Nigeria, he never would have had a chance to get the evidence that the immigration judge required." As an asylee, Ojo is permitted to remain in the United States indefinitely and can apply for legal permanent residence after one year. The Department of Homeland Security has reserved appeal in the case, so Ojo's ordeal may not be over.

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