26 Dec 2011- A gay Ugandan man is free after being held at an Otay Mesa detention facility for nearly two years. "It's like a dream come true," said Joseph Bukombe.
For Bukombe, who is a musician, it was a dream born from a nightmare. Eight years ago, he arrived in San Diego from Uganda. He said his work visa expired several years ago.
During his time in San Diego, Bukombe came out as a gay man but was afraid to go home.
Fueled by religious forces, Uganda had been considering a law that would have imposed the death penalty for certain homosexual acts. During that time, a mob beat one of Bukombe's friends to death. "I didn't want to die. I didn't want to go back and die," Bukombe said.
In early 2010, Bukombe was stopped for a DUI after eating Jell-O at a birthday party. "I knew I was driving, so I was trying to be careful. I didn't know the Jell-O had alcohol in it," he said.
Bukombe was detained by immigration officials in Otay Mesa and faced deportation. He hired an attorney, but could not pay for him. After languishing for several years, Bukombe discovered a $20,000 bail had been set early in the process. Hector Martinez, a friend of a friend, started a campaign supporting Bukombe, including a petition drive.
"We think either paperwork got sent to the wrong address or the attorney never informed him," said Martinez. Martinez raised $6,000 and took out a loan for the remainder of the bail. However, Bukombe still faces deportation hearings.
"Because you're speaking out in this interview, what will happen to you in Uganda?" asked 10News reporter Michael Chen. "I can't even think about it. It's clear I will die," said Bukombe. "I'm scared for the future, but at least I have hope."
Immigration officials could not be reached for comment, but they have said they will proceed with deportation proceedings ordered by the court. A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement previously released this statement to 10News:
"Over the course of the last year, Mr. Bukombe's immigration case has undergone extensive review by judges at multiple levels of our legal system. In those proceedings, the courts have held that he has failed to establish a legal basis to remain in the United States. ICE is now in the process of seeking to carry out the deportation order handed down by the immigration court."
Bukombe plans to hire an attorney and re-apply for asylum.
Supporters are also pushing a congressional bill that could allow him to stay.