Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
BY Crystal Proxmire
If Tim Hunter had his way, he would marry Hugo Gallardo Petatan and save him from being deported. “He is very funny, very charming, very good looking, excellent cook. And he’s very sociable. He can strike up a conversation with anyone,” said the Ypsilanti man.
Now he is doing everything he can to save the 24-year-old Mexican citizen from being sent back to a country that doesn’t feel like home.
Petatan was 17 years old when his parents made it safely to North Carolina and sent for him and his older brother. In America, Petatan worked in restaurants to help his family survive, and he reveled in a passion for cooking that he could not have explored in his homeland.
“He is such a great cook, but in Mexico that was considered woman’s work so boys weren’t allowed in the kitchen. It made him get picked on for being a sissy,” Hunter said.
Petatan said that growing up, his classmates would make fun of him and hit him because he did not like girls. There is another memory as well. “Some other neighborhood boys attacked me and burned my penis,” he said. He said he was twelve or thirteen when it happened.
Hunter confirms that there is a scar. “He told me it was from a branding instrument or a hot wire,” he said.
The young man had kept his sexuality hidden in his youth, but whether prompted by the spirit of American freedom or just by nature of growing up, Petatan finally came out to his father.
“It was hard for my father. It was really hurtful. My father believes I would be better off dead than to be a homosexual. I told him I would change, and that I would like girls. But it was wrong. I told him I couldn’t change and that it was a mistake to say that I could change. He is a discrete person and did not like it,” Petatan said. “I left home because it was best for my father, so he would not be so hurt.”
Petatan moved in with friends and began dating men. In June 2011, he met Hunter online.
“Tim is really good to me,” Petatan said. “He takes care of me and is affectionate, and helps me to do right things like not to drink.” In July, Petatan moved in with his newfound partner.
About five weeks later, on October 7, 2011, Petatan left a gay bar in Ann Arbor at closing time, admittedly intoxicated. A man riding by on a bicycle accused him of indecent exposure and inappropriate touching after a police officer questioned if everything was okay. Petatan was arrested and, according to Hunter, had an attorney who did not speak Spanish and did not have much time to dedicate to the case. Hunter also said the accuser showed up only for one pretrial meeting, looked uncomfortable, and failed to come to any of the subsequent court dates. Petatan’s charge was reduced to misdemeanor indecent exposure and he was given time served, and handed over to ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) to be detained and deported.
And now he waits. The past six months he has been held in a large, dome-covered room in Detroit where up to 160 detainees are stacked in bunks three high and confined to their bunks much of the day.
When interviewed he was only able to speak for half an hour, in a long common room divided by a clear wall with telephones to talk into. He checked over his shoulders regularly, especially when asked about more personal matters. “If there were other people here who spoke Spanish, I wouldn’t be saying these things,” he said through an interpreter. He also said that there are others being detained who are struggling to hide their sexuality as well.
When Hunter visits he holds back emotions and affection, particularly if others are around. He said it “breaks his heart” not to be able to give him a hug through the glass.
But Hunter isn’t sitting idly by. He fought to get Petatan another lawyer, this one specializing in LGBT deportation cases. The new lawyer had gotten Petatan a stay, meaning that he can remain in detention until a case for asylum can be heard.
Karen Zwick of Hartland Alliance in Chicago is now representing Petatan. She plans to argue that Petatan should be granted political asylum because in Mexico he would face discrimination, hate and violence. “It is a hard case to make because in Mexico there have been some legislative reforms. Mexico City has granted gay marriage. However, it is still the second most violent place in Latin America for gay people. There are stories of men who are brutally castrated and decapitated. So despite some efforts of the Mexican government it still remains very homophobic on the ground.”
She noted that some difficulty exists because the case has already been heard and mistakes had been made due to miscommunication. “Fundamentally, make sure people know immigration hearings are very serious and you need to speak to someone who is familiar with LGBT cases. If you’re pulled over immediately seek help,” she cautioned other gay and transgender individuals who may face deportation.
ICE deports approximately 300,000 people each year, and their sexual orientation is not tracked.
If sent back to Mexico, Petatan said he will move to a place where there are other gay people and he will try to work in a restaurant. He would like to try and come back to the United States, but if he is deported he must wait a minimum of ten years before applying to return legally. He said he knows that Hunter would not like living in Mexico and that it would be hard for him. Hunter says he’d like to find a way for both of them to move to Canada and get married, although neither has the resources to move.
In hopes of persuading ICE to let Petatan stay in the country, Hunter is holding a rally in front of the ICE building at 333 Mt. Elliot, Detroit on Oct. 3 at noon. A previous rally attracted a dozen people.