Alex Blaze

US to Deport Gay Man to Uganda

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 14, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: homophobic behavior, ice, immigration, joseph bokombe, Uganda, visa

Here's a story that highlights a lot of problems with America's immigration system.

bokombe.jpgJoseph Bokombe is a gay man from Uganda who came to the US several years ago on a cultural exchange visa. His visa soon expired but he stayed, the ICE says they've reviewed his case and courts have reviewed his case, and the government could deport him soon. I haven't found a media report that specifies whether he's applied for asylum or for another visa.

We've been hearing a lot about being gay in Uganda lately, and one of his friends, another gay Ugandan immigrant, told local news he doesn't think Bokombe could get past the airport without being detained. A local paper published a list of gay activists in the country with the words "Hang them" recently and a bill that would punish some instances of homosexuality with the death penalty has been debated.

Everyone who wants to live in the US should have the right to pack up their bags and go. But that's not what the majority of Americans want and that's not where American immigration policy is going, as the Obama administration has actually increased the number of deportations from the final year of the Bush administration. Even looking at comments on local TV coverage of Bokombe's case I see lots of Americans saying that, since his visa ran out and he broke the law, he should be sent back to Uganda. Who cares what happens to him there - it's his own fucking fault.

What's heart-breaking is that his supporters have been trying to keep him in the country with an online petition that the ICE will probably not even read. The petition includes information showing his value to their community - his work at a local mental health nonprofit, volunteering at a church, love of karaoke - which is important to most humans but unimportant in the American immigration system. Even the liberal organizations like Immigration Equality aren't willing to call for commitment to the community to be seen as a reason to stay in the United States, opting to hold up the people who establish long-term, conjugal relationships as the people who definitely should be allowed to stay with community commitments presented as nothing more than testaments to good character.

The US deports people back to Haiti, a country that has still not recovered from a devastating earthquake last year, only to send them to prison where people are dying of cholera. The ICE plans to deport 700 Haitians this year, with the full knowledge of what will happen to them when they go back.

Saying that Bokombe faces death if he goes back to Uganda, unfortunately, will not be enough to break the rules of the American immigration system. It's a system that kills people and has for years; speaking truth to power when power already knows what it's doing accomplishes nothing.

I know what it's like to want to stay in a country and to jump through hoops not knowing if anything will actually work. It's stressful and unfair, and reporting back to French people and telling them how their country's immigration system works elicited shocked responses, but that was about it. And I didn't have the pressures Bokombe faces of both a substantially decreased standard of living and substantially increased restrictions on his autonomy as a gay man.

There's a petition at, although I seriously doubt those petitions actually accomplish anything, especially in situations like these. But it may be worth passing along anyway since a big part of the problem is that the voting public in most countries has absolutely no clue how their own immigration system works.

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Although I do believe in the rule of law and due process we must not live by the letter alone. The spirit is sometimes much more important.

The reason why our immigration system has asylums is to prevent the needless deaths of people do to intolerance and hate. There are many types of asylum. Surely a man who may executed for simply existing falls within one of those.

If we in our democratic ideals can not extend compassion and tolerance to those who need us most our system is truly in jeopardy.


Why would we even seriously consider sending him back to Uganda when we know he'll get hurt? It makes no damn sense!

Thanks so much for covering Bokombe's story, and for linking to the petition. I recognize that online petitions have a high bar in terms of proving their efficacy. But we have had success in the past with online petitions helping reverse and/or delay deportation cases. The most recent being here (, and one could argue that AllOut's petition on Brenda Namigadde was also pretty successful in raising awareness about her story (

Thanks again, Alex!

Hector Martinez | April 15, 2011 12:55 PM

Thanks for writing about this story Alex! I started the petition and wanted to clarify a couple points. Our mutual friend Awichu is from Uganda but he is not gay. He has been criticized by Ugandan community and has stood up for gay rights as a straight man which in the Ugandan community that is very courageous. I get your point about petition may not be effective. I have been writing to Congress, Senate, White House and everyone else I can think of. The NYT just did an article on renewed vengeance of anti gay sentiment in Uganda. I am grateful to you for writing about this, thank you and everyone who has signed.

I'm glad to see Alex and Bilerico airing this horrible story. We may doubt the usefulness of some petitions. But when it comes to saving someone's life, we should use every resource possible. I've signed the petition, and hope that others will too.

Uganda is one of the worst places on Earth that any LGBT person should be deported to.

Regan DuCasse | April 15, 2011 5:23 PM

As long as there are terrible human rights abuses against gays, lesbians and the transgendered in specific countries, their immigration cases will always been set apart from the majority of immigration standards anyway.
I have made this plain, and know full well that gays and lesbian immigrants in America risk becoming illegally here for reasons like this.

I have supported Mr. Bokombe's petition.
I too believe fully in the rule of law, and there shouldn't otherwise be any support for the rampant and damaging results of wholesale illegal immigration. And yes, because America is the preferred destination of millions, if not BILLIONS, there is no way we have the infrastructure to accommodate too many legal immigrants. Let alone millions more who are unidentifiable and unaccounted for.
I've taken a lot of abuse from people who misinterpret what I say about that.

It is an unfortunate confluence of great numbers of people, and not enough infrastructure to support them that's made immigration to this country grind to an untenable and heartbreaking and inefficient standstill.
Those awaiting the legal processing, have to wait longer, have more requirements and more money to do so.
Still gives no one the right to undercut the process and displace the entrant to waited their turn and met all the requirements necessary.

And a process IS necessary.

There is no equation where there are people of great need and dependence when they greatly, outstrip those of self sufficiency that will be workable. Let alone successful.

Regan you have brought up a point many cite now days. Infrastructure and support are valuable concerns but the higher concern is Humanity.

Our forefathers fresh from oppression knew the value of liberty and freedom. Americans today take it for granted dishing it out to those we see fit.

In reality the situation is much less grim. New people leads to innovation, creation, and integration. We are much greater of a whole when we allow our dynamic to change.

Our culture expands, tolerance thrives, and new thoughts build upon past labors. "Necessity is the mother of invention."

Maybe we need to remember the wise words from our past.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she with silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

Emma Lazarus wrote those words and they were placed upon the Statue of Liberty. Maybe its time we in America remind ourselves liberty is the blessing of all, not the few we deem worthy.


Regan DuCasse | April 16, 2011 11:00 PM

T, don't try it. I think Lady Liberty is one of the most beautiful symbols of our country.

You ran right over the most important factor. That the humanity then, as now, were expected to assimilate, form into citizens committed to the same standards, values and cultural cohesion they CHOSE to adopt.
If we're all humanity, then that humanity still has to participate in the full responsibility of being a member of America.
You don't get to steal places, bogard the line, and act like there are no rules that apply to you.
When thousands of people commit the same breach of ethical behavior, and standards of identity and accountability WE ALL are accountable for, there is just what's happened.
Different levels of enforcement, lack of the ability to know who is who and what they are doing while here. Accountability for citizens and legal residents, none for illegal immigrants.
It's demoralizing to those who paid their dues, to see someone benefit in the same way who didn't.
It's wrong and unfair to treat the law abiding part of HUMANITY that way.

If it's the moral thing to be a land of freedom, and rights and protections, it's also moral to participate in the responsibilities, accountability and self reliance it stands for too.
We could never take in ALL the tired, poor and huddled masses that exist in this world

Tell the guy to get in a car and drive to the Canadian border and tell the CBSA guard he wishes to apply for asylum in Canada. Just because the US isn't an option doesn't mean there aren't good options.

Regan DuCasse | April 17, 2011 1:29 PM

Excellent suggestion Kris. I signed the petition for asylum for this gentleman, but he just might have a better chance in Canada than here.

Good luck to him, whether he can stay on this continent, or ends up back in Africa. Perhaps even SOUTH AFRICA is an option as well. That is a country that has legal marriage for gay people too.