U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has agreed to temporarily suspend a deportation order pending over a gay Venezuelan man in Miami who is HIV-positive and fears being returned to a country that suffers shortages of many medicines.
Hair stylist Ricardo Querales, 43, had applied for the deferral, attaching a letter from his doctor arguing that his return to Venezuela would be the equivalent “of a death sentence.”
ICE approved the request Thursday and returned Querales to a supervision program. He must report back to the agency within one year, but meanwhile can remain and work legally.
“I feel privileged, refreshed, happy, proud of my gay community that supported me at every step,” Querales said. “The decision saved me from death, but only temporarily.”
His case became public after reports in el Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald in February. Public reaction was polarized amid the sharp debate around the country over immigration and the Trump administration’s stance on it.
Some opposed Querales’ deportation because of the humanitarian crisis in the South American country. Others said Querales’ troubles were of his own making.
He was granted political asylum in 2004, but that was revoked after his 2009 conviction and imprisonment on felony possession of a controlled substance and two misdemeanor charges of possession of drug paraphernalia.
An immigration judge signed his deportation order in 2011, but it was not executed immediately.
Querales’ new lawyer, Marcial de Sautu, said he plans to ask the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen the asylum case based on the drastic changes in Venezuela’s living conditions since 2004. The country is suffering through severe shortages of food and medicine, and the number of deaths among HIV-positive patients has increased.
“If the [asylum] case can be reopened, that means the deportation order no longer exists and we can present new evidence so that the immigration court can make a ruling,” said the lawyer, who specializes in Venezuelan asylum cases. “There are very strong arguments for not deporting him from this country, for humanitarian reasons.”
He said he would later explore whether the conviction in a Miami-Dade court can be voided, which would clear the way for another asylum request.