Ricardo Querales fears that his days are numbered.
Afflicted with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, the gay Venezuelan man showed up in mid-January at the headquarters of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Miramar to comply with a routine supervision order in place for several years as part of deportation proceedings. Hundreds go through this process regularly.
But on this visit, Querales got dreaded news. He was ordered to return at the end of February with passport and plane ticket in hand for voluntary deportation to his homeland.
“You are sending me to my death!” Querales, 43, told the immigration official. “This is anti human rights. In Venezuela, there is no medicine and every day someone with AIDS disappears.”
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He is holding on to hope that the U.S. government will acknowledge the shortage of antiretroviral drugs to fight HIV infection in a country that is going through a spiraling humanitarian crisis and won’t force him to leave because of nonviolent criminal charges that revoked his asylum status.
Marcial De Sautu, an immigration lawyer, said that Querales should file an I-246 form for a request for temporary deferral of deportation or removal.
“There is a very serious crisis in Venezuela, and if he has HIV and there are no drugs there, he should ask that they not take him out of the country for humanitarian reasons,” said De Sautu. In recent months, Venezuelan health organizations have reported that the death rate among HIV patients has increased due to the shortage of antiretrovirals.
Originally from Maracaibo, in western Venezuela, Querales arrived in the United States in 2003, escaping political persecution and insecurity. A year later, an immigration judge approved his asylum request.
Within three years, he joined the increasing number of gay Latino men who are HIV positive. Between 2006 — the year he discovered he was HIV positive — and 2015, HIV diagnoses in Miami-Dade County among Latino men increased by 70 percent, according to statistics from the Florida Department of Health.
Faced with the reality of being a carrier of the virus, coupled with depression and loneliness in a foreign country, Querales turned to drugs as a means of escape.
Mario Schauer, an activist and blogger in Miami who counsels gay Hispanics with HIV/AIDS in Latin America, said it is common for those diagnosed with the virus “to go through a process of self-destruction when they discover they are HIV positive because there are people who assume that it is a death sentence.”
Schauer said many Venezuelans carrying the virus are looking for ways to emigrate to save themselves.
Querales, a hair stylist, first got into trouble with law enforcement nearly a decade ago after a friend who had borrowed his car died of an overdose on Miami Beach. When police arrived at his home the next day, they found a small bag of methamphetamine. He was charged with controlled substance possession and drug paraphernalia possession with intent to use. He was convicted in 2009 and served 30 days in jail.
He was arrested a second time following a police raid at a house that he was visiting. No charges were filed against Querales, but he was turned over to ICE custody and spent six months in detention. It was during this time that his political asylum was revoked.
At the end of 2011, an immigration judge signed his deportation order.
The order was not immediately carried out. Querales was allowed to resume his life in Miami but in 2014 was placed on “Order of Supervision,” which requires periodic check-in with ICE officials.
As the crisis deepened in Venezuela, deportation was postponed.
“I am a reformed citizen, a decent worker who made mistakes in the past and I am no longer on drugs,” said Querales, who has been clean for five years. “They told me they would not deport me because there are no medicines for my treatment in Venezuela.”
His next appointment with ICE is scheduled for Feb 22.
“My plan is to stay here,” Querales said, “fight to the end.”