Gay Honduran Immigrant Fights to Stay in Florida to Escape Torture, Abuse, Lawyer Says
Italo Morales is on the run. The 27-year-old from Honduras is trying to scrape up the cash to sneak through the border from Mexico to El Paso, Texas. After that, he plans on speeding through the southern United States on his way to Florida.
He's headed toward Hollywood - home for the past 10 years - where he will almost certainly be arrested once he arrives. The reason Morales is so adamant about staying in Florida is that he doesn't feel safe in his home country. Since he was 17, Morales has been seeking political asylum for being gay.
Growing up, Morales felt "unloved by his family and the people around him," his boyfriend, Santos Quintilla, told New Times in Spanish. He grew up with a childhood and adolescence marred by verbal abuse and beatings. His face is scarred by knife attacks.
"People like Italo don't do well in places like Honduras," says Quintilla, who started dating Morales in high school. "They get beat up and sometimes killed."
In 2005, Honduras constitutionally banned same-sex marriage and adoption. For Quintilla, that was enough. Morales followed him to Broward County, where he took a job at a Colombian fast-food restaurant. Life was simple. As his boyfriend describes it: "Basically what his life consisted of was going to work and coming back home and maybe the occasional weekend outing."
Meanwhile, as the two refugees forged a peaceful existence together, the situation was fomenting back home. Honduras has - by far - the highest homicide rate in the world, according to the United Nations. And its history of violence against gays in particular has only escalated since the 2009 constitutional crisis that led to the exile of then-president Manuel Zelaya. There was a coup, which led to a suspension of civil liberties and the imposition of curfews. During the four years that followed the coup, about 80 gay, lesbian or transgendered individuals have been tortured, killed or both - some even at the hand's of the country's police.
Since 1994, the U.S. has allowed people to seek asylum for their sexual orientation, which meant Morales was allowed to stay in the United States so long as he wore an ankle bracelet. But on March 10th of this year, he was asked to visit Immigration Court in Miami, because the battery on the device was running low. One week later, he found himself back in Honduras.
Immigration Equality, which runs the largest LGBT asylum program, has advised Morales in his case. Diego Ortiz, a spokesperson there, said that out of their 407 open cases, 24 are from Honduras. The country is tied for second only with El Salvador (and is only topped by Mexico) for the Latin American country with the most applicants.
But as Morales defiantly heads back toward Florida, his attorney, Nicolas Olano, worries about what will happen when he arrives.
"If he comes to my office, I have to basically take him to immigration officers," he says. "I explained that to him."
But even if he gets sent back to Honduras again, Olano thinks his case is strong. His job is to prove that there is more than a 50 percent chance that his client could face harm if returned to his native land. He thinks that shouldn't be too hard.
"It's a very good case, according to case law," he says. "He's terrified of being sent back to Honduras."
Send your story tips to the author, Allie Conti.
Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti