SALEM — A Venezuelan man who is HIV positive and is in the U.S. legally was arrested in Portland in a pre-dawn raid because of a methamphetamine possession conviction, his immigration lawyer and a rights group said on Monday.
Luis Garcia, a nurse at a hospice center in Portland, now faces deportation to a country that is in an economic crisis, and where medicine is scarce.
"If he is deported to his native Venezuela, it will be a death sentence ... Venezuela will not provide him with the life-saving medications he needs to live with HIV," the advocacy group Basic Rights Oregon said in a statement.
The group said Garcia was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at on Nov. 15 and has been locked up since then in a federal immigration detention center in Tacoma, Washington.
Rose M. Richeson, spokeswoman for ICE's Seattle office, said that based on Garcia's felony conviction, the agency placed him in "removal proceedings" and has him in custody pending a decision by immigration courts.
N. David Shamloo, Garcia's immigration attorney, said Garcia's conviction for possessing methamphetamine made him subject to removal from the United States. A date hasn't been set yet for his court hearing, Shamloo said.
The lawyer said he is surprised that ICE didn't grant Garcia supervised release, with electronic monitoring and weekly check-ins, as the agency could have done.
"He clearly had a job, no prior offenses, he had legal permanent residence status, and in fact this was a very minor offense," Shamloo said, adding that Garcia had been put on probation for the offense.
"He would be the poster child for someone being released instead being shipped up to Tacoma," Shamloo said in a telephone interview as he was about to drive from Portland to see Garcia and other clients in the detention center, which has a capacity for about 1,500 detainees.
Basic Rights Oregon, which works to ensure equal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Oregonians, said deportation would be dangerous for Garcia as an "openly gay man."
However, gay people are not arrested for their sexual orientation in Venezuela, which has gay clubs there, an annual gay rights parade and a strong drag queen culture. There are major shortages of HIV medications, not because of an anti-gay agenda but because of the economic crisis. There are also shortages of most medicines in the South American country.
Garcia entered the United States at age 17 on a tourist visa, and attended nursing school in San Francisco, receiving a student visa, Basic Rights Oregon said. He works at a hospice center in Portland, the group said. Officials at the center declined to comment.
Earlier this month, another Oregonian — a man who was adopted from South Korea by Americans when he was 3 — was deported to his native country by ICE because of his criminal record. Two sets of adoptive parents had neglected to seek citizenship for Adam Crapser, and instead had abandoned and abused him. He is now trying to start a new life in a country whose culture and language are unknown to him.
On Nov. 10, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said there were about 41,000 people in U.S. immigration detention facilities. Many are new arrivals. In October, 46,195 people were apprehended along America's southwest border, compared with 39,501 in September and 37,048 in August, he said.