“In Brazil, I lived in constant fear for my life,” says twenty-seven-year-old Augusto Pereira de Souza, who scored an unusual asylum win from the Department of Homeland Security, which was convinced if he returned home, he would continue to face torment. That the United States has opened its doors to a man fleeing from one of the world’s most violently anti-gay countries, however, isn’t just great news for Souza, but it might be the type of hope Uganda’s gays are looking for.
Despite hiding his sexuality, Souza, now living in New Jersey, says he “still faced repeated beatings, attacks, and threats on my life because I was gay. At times I was attacked by skinheads and brutally beaten by cops. After the cops attack you and threaten your life for being gay, you learn quickly that there is no one that will protect you. For me, coming to the U.S. was a life or death decision.”
As it will be for many of Uganda’s gays, should the Anti-Homosexuality Bill become law. (Already, homosexuality there is a crime, which already establishes the groundwork for asylum claims.) And if Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s statements about Uganda’s proposed law are shared by the executive branch, then Homeland Security might find itself issuing even more writs of freedom from persecution.
But securing asylum is, as any attorney in the field can tell you, a most difficult process. There are rounds of reviews, exhaustive paperwork, and extensive case reviews. It is an extremely expensive undertaking; Souza’s own asylum claim was secured by three students at Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic. And to begin an asylum claim, gay Ugandans will first have to get to the United States — no easy task, given the expense and visa difficulty.
So while we get to celebrate the victory of one man’s safety — where the U.S. government won’t force him back to a country with 180 reported LGBT murders in 2008 alone — we must acknowledge the plight is far from over. We’re not saying America’s borders must be open to anyone claiming persecution. But the U.S. must be part of the solution if it does do everything in its power to keep Uganda from legislatively approving murder for an entire class of people.