SAN FRANCISCO -- Federal judges have permitted a gay Filipino immigrant to stay in the U.S. despite deportation orders because he has suffered persecution for his sexual orientation in his native land.
In a decision issued Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said 37-year-old Dennis Vitug was harassed and threatened by police in his native Philippines for being a homosexual.
According to Vitug's account, as detailed in the decision, when he was a teenager, other students bullied him and administrators threatened him with expulsion for his effeminate manner.
In 1991, after the family lost their home to the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo, Vitug was denied shelter by his extended family because of his sexual orientation. He moved to Manila alone at age 16, where he was threatened by police, beaten and robbed.
He first visited the U.S. in 1996, returning to the Philippines when his visa expired. Vitug said he struggled to find work because of his sexual orientation.
Vitug moved to the U.S. in 1999 and overstayed a tourist visa while working in the Los Angeles area and studying fashion design.
About two years later, Vitug became addicted to crystal methamphetamine and was convicted of possession several times, relapsing repeatedly despite seeking rehabilitation and counseling.
In 2005, Vitug was diagnosed as HIV positive, leading to another drug relapse and an arrest. He was sentenced to a year in prison. Eight months into the sentence, immigration authorities determined Vitug was eligible for deportation as a result of the conviction.
The Board of Immigration Appeals had ordered him removed from the country over the drug convictions, saying there was "a lack of official discrimination against homosexuals" in the Philippines, among other arguments.
The court said Wednesday that there was evidence that Vitug was persecuted in the Philippines, and said the board "abuses its discretion where it ignores arguments or evidence."
Immigration officials were ordered to withhold Vitug's removal.