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HIV-positive man
fears forced return to Colombia

HIV-positive man
fears forced return to Colombia

Gay asylum seeker says he will be killed by paramilitary groups if he is forced to return to Colombia.

An HIV-positive man living in South Florida tells the Miami Herald that he fears being deported to his native Colombia because a paramilitary group will kill him because he is gay. Luis Fabriciano Rico applied for asylum in 2001 after arriving in Florida on a tourist visa. "I cannot go back to my country. [They] will kill me because I am gay and HIV-positive. I am scared," Rico told the newspaper. "Let me live in the United States to save my life." A U.S. immigration judge has denied Rico's request. That decision has been appealed and could arrive at any time, Leon Fresco, Rico's attorney, told the Herald. Rico is 38 and from Barrancabermeja, Colombia, "a city under siege" by heavily armed paramilitary groups, according to Amnesty International. The town in controlled by a right-wing group called the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), which is listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization, according to the newspaper. It is heavily involved in the Colombian drug trade. Fresco said the AUC will kill "anyone they perceive to be gay. They throw rocks at your head. They kidnap and rape you." Rico's family remains in Colombia, except for a sister who lives in Miami, the newspaper reported. He has an accounting degree from Colombia but washes dishes in Orlando, where he lives with his longtime partner, Juan Carlos Rodriguez. "When I lived in Colombia, they tried to kill Luis and me," Rodriguez told the newspaper. "It's better here. We live together, free. I can walk in the streets. I can go to the movies. I can go shopping." A different judge granted Rico's partner asylum in 2003. Rodriguez hadn't amended his asylum claim to say he is gay, the newspaper reported. When he first applied for asylum, Rico said it was for political reasons and later amended his request based on his sexual orientation. At his 2003 immigration hearing the judge admonished him for not telling the full story. In his ruling the judge also noted that Rico had "repeatedly traveled to Colombia from the United States during the time he was allegedly being persecuted," according to the newspaper. Rico traveled to Colombia twice in 2001 to visit his young daughter, who had been ill, Fresco said. Nova Southeastern University law professor James D. Wilets, executive director of the school's Inter-American Center for Human Rights, recently testified on behalf of Rico. "Rico's experience with violent threats from gang members is entirely consistent with credible reports of widespread violent antigay activities of gangs and paramilitary organizations," Wilets said in a January 6 affidavit. "What is particularly disturbing about the situation of gay individuals in Colombia is that the danger to their physical well-being comes not just from societal hatred and fear of homosexuality but from the police, military, gangs, and paramilitary groups connected with the government."

Florida Democratic representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Corrine Brown also have written to the immigration appeals board, asking that it overturn the judge's decision and assign the case to a new judge, the newspaper reported. (

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