Chapel Hill News

Deportation postponed as gay Mexican immigrant fights to stay in U.S.

Felipe Molina-Mendoza, a 2009 Riverside High graduate, is facing deportation.
Felipe Molina-Mendoza, a 2009 Riverside High graduate, is facing deportation. The Herald-Sun

The deportation of a gay community college student in Durham who had faced being returned to Mexico has been put on hold pending his latest appeal.

Felipe de Jesus Molina Mendoza, 25, a 2009 Riverside High School graduate, is seeking asylum because he fears anti-gay violence if returned to Mexico. He must still appear Tuesday at a hearing in Charlotte, he said Thursday.

“I really don’t know what to think,” Molina Mendoza said. “They can still detain me right there.”

Molina Mendoza had originally been instructed to appear next week with a plane ticket to Mexico for “departure from the United States” by Feb. 28.

On Monday U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield asked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stay the order while the Durham Tech student appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

“Mr. Molina does not have a criminal record and does not appear to be a threat to public safety or national security,” Butterfield wrote ICE Field Office Director Sean Gallagher. “To the contrary my office has been inundated with positive messages over the past several weeks from the Durham community expressing their support for Mr. Molina.

Aides to Butterfield confirmed Friday ICE has used its discretionary power to put that deportation on hold, without Molina-Mendoza having to file for an official stay. An ICE spokesman said he could not comment on the case because of privacy rules.

Molina Mendoza says he received anti-gay threats after he returned to Mexico to attend college because he couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition in North Carolina.

In Mexico, Molina Mendoza said he didn’t hide being gay, which led to taunts, beer bottles being thrown at him and his then boyfriend and threats of rape.

“The only thing they (police) would say was that it was our fault” for being gay, Molina Mendoza said. “And they would say there was no evidence that we were being harassed or assaulted.”

In 2013, Molina Mendoza tried to cross the border in Tamaulipas, Texas, only to sign a voluntary deportation because he didn’t think he had any choice.

“They caught me,” he said. “They asked if I was in danger going back to my country. They told me if I said yes I would probably be in jail for three or four years, and it was most likely I would still be deported. They encouraged me to sign it.”

Later, he learned about political asylum and decided to try to come to the United States again. This time, in 2014, he went directly to a border crossing gate in Otay Mesa, Calif.

He said he was detained for three days in a “cooler,” not allowed to bathe or brush his teeth, and then sent to a detention center. He said he stayed there for three months before his family found a U.S. sponsor and paid $7,500 for his release pending his asylum claim.

Enforcement priority

On Tuesday, an ICE spokesman said Molina Mendoza is a priority for the agency, which enforces federal immigration laws, because he had already been deported once.

“Felipe de Jesus Molina Mendoza, an unlawfully present Mexican national who was previously removed from the United States in October of 2013, is an ICE priority as he is subject to a final order of removal issued by a federal immigration judge in March 2016,” spokesman Bryan Cox said. “ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that focuses on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.”

When asked what threat Molina Mendoza posed, Cox replied “border security” in an email.

Schultz: 919-829-8950