Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Jorge Soto Vega: A case study in narrative inevitability. Or: What if the cast of Blossom were appointed to immigration judgeships?

Jorge Soto Vega, a gay Mexican, was granted asylum today to escape harassment and death threats about his sexuality.
In 2003, a Southern California immigration judge ruled that there was credible evidence that Soto Vega was persecuted in Mexico because of his sexual orientation, but rejected his application for asylum in the United States because Soto Vega didn't "appear gay" to him and, in the judge's opinion, he could pass as straight if he so chose.

After the Board of Immigration Appeals summarily affirmed that opinion, Lambda Legal in 2004 petitioned the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco for review.

On June 2, 2006, the Ninth Circuit held that both the immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals decided incorrectly by not recognizing that, because Soto Vega had been persecuted in the past, he was entitled to a presumption that he had a well-founded fear of future persecution were he forced to return to Mexico.

The Ninth Circuit further held that it was the government's burden to show that Soto Vega's life would not be in jeopardy if he were forced to return home to the country where his life had been threatened in the past.

The decision by the immigration judge after today's hearing concluded that the government had not been able to refute that presumption and that Soto Vega therefore is entitled to asylum in the United States.
Notice that both judges made the assumption that Soto Vega's sexuality was immutable. There are many narratives (I use that word instead of "idea" or "theory" because they generally have less proof than a theory and less logic than an idea but more invested on them than either of those two terms imply) about the origin of sexuality, but they can be broken down into two groups: those that say that one's sexual orientation is changeable by choice and those that say that it's unchangeable by choice. And both judges' decisions were based on the latter, which means that the first judge's inevitably led to the second.

I don't mean to imply that people who think that sexuality cannot be changed are automatically pro-gay. What I am saying is that people who are heterosexist enough to believe that gay people should be legally discriminated against in the letter of the law have no choice but to say that it is changeable considering another, even more important, narrative: that of equality of opportunity. The folks like the AFA and Focus on the Family who aren't necessarily stupid enough to think that people choose to be gay have to say that they believe it because it's a whole lot easier to convince people of that than to convince Americans that equality of opportunity in the letter of the law should be violated.

What does this all have to do with Soto Vega? Well, the more judges that think that sexuality is not a choice, the better off we are. It's a deeper indicator of progress than what the decisions actually say.

I also wanted to link to this because a straight judge used his gaydar in a decision. We're in good hands!

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