Seeking a new life – and health care

Image of a red stamp that reads, "Case Closed"

Many migrants who come to the United States from Mexico are seeking economic opportunities and a better way of life.

Some have additional reasons, such as a man Yolanda French Lollis, Esq., the AIDS Law Project’s managing attorney, has represented periodically for about 15 years.

“He wanted a better life for himself as a gay man,” Yolanda said. “It was difficult being openly gay in Mexico.”

He came to this country in the 1990s on a tourist visa, eventually staying in a Pennsylvania city. One night in 1996 he was walking down the street when he was jumped by a stranger, dragged into a building and raped.

“He was traumatized and humiliated by the experience,” Yolanda said. “He had anxiety, despair, he couldn’t trust anybody.”

It got even worse.

After the violent assault he was diagnosed with HIV. Despite fearing homophobia in Mexico, he returned to his country because his tourist visa was expiring. Going back also put his health at risk. His doctor said the HIV treatment he was getting here was probably unavailable in Mexico.

“Borders determine a lot of things,” Yolanda said. “People on one side of the border get health care. People on the other side don’t.”

He was able to get another temporary visa in 2000. The AIDS Law Project helped him get that visa extended, but eventually he returned to Mexico as that visa was expiring.

Unable to get a new visa in Mexico, the man made the decision in 2005 to undertake the dangerous journey to cross the border into the US.

He came to us again in 2011, seeking to stay in the country with appropriate documentation. As he had been the victim of a rape in the US, Yolanda knew he could be eligible for a U Visa, a nonimmigrant visa for people who have been the victims of crime, suffered substantial physical or mental abuse and are willing to help law enforcement in the investigation of the crime.

Although the man met those criteria, he had another tough hurdle to clear.

Because he entered the US without permission, he was ineligible for the U visa without a waiver. Yolanda successfully argued that he deserved a waiver because of his personal circumstances and his many contributions to his community.

Although many undocumented immigrants live in the shadows, the man was immersed in community life. He was an activist, focusing on health care, civil rights and immigrant issues. Among other things, he had spoken to medical students about Latino cultural differences and worked with the local police on racial profiling issues.

“The list goes on and on.” Yolanda said. “It’s just incredible.”

Our case file for him is thick with letters of support from community members describing the contributions he has made.

In 2013, we were notified that our client was eligible for a U Visa, but that wasn’t the end of it. There is a limit on the number of U Visas that can be issued in a year and the cap had been reached for 2013.

Finally, in October he was granted his U Visa. In three years he can apply for a permanent resident visa, or green card.

“He is a great advocate for himself and other people,” Yolanda said. “For him, it’s all about health care.”