SAN DIEGO - A local gay man facing deportation and what he calls certain death has seen his holiday wish come true.
"I was so, so, so, so happy," said Joseph Bokombe. "I'm grateful. It's amazing."
For Bokombe, there is joy after plenty of fear. Bokombe, a musician, arrived in San Diego nine years ago from Uganda. His visa eventually expired but Bokombe, who came out in San Diego, was afraid to go home.
Fueled by religious forces, Uganda had begun considering a law that would have imposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts. A mob beat one of Bokombe's friends to death.
When asked what he thought would happen if he was sent back to Uganda, Bokombe said, "Definitely, without a doubt, I would be killed."
In early 2010, Bokombe was stopped for a DUI after he says he unknowingly ate Jell-O that was filled with alcohol.
Bokombe was detained by immigration officials in Otay Mesa and faced deportation. He languished in detention for several years. Hector Martinez, a friend of a friend, then took up his fight. Martinez began an online petition and collected about 25,000 signatures.
"I got a lot of help from the community from donations to a legal referral," said Martinez.
Bokombe learned that early on in the process, a $20,000 bail had been set. Martinez says the paperwork may have been sent to the wrong address.
When attorney Ginger Jacobs took the case, she petitioned for a two-year-reprieve – known as a deferred action – but knew deportation could come at any moment.
Meanwhile, a Ugandan leader recently vowed to pass the so-called – "Kill the Gays" bill – as a Christmas present for the nation.
For Bokombe, the anxiety and nightmares were constant.
"You don't want to think about what's going to happen to you," he said.
Then, a letter from immigration officials came. The letter noted his intentions to appeal his deportation order due to fears of persecution before granting a two-year window, which would allow him to stay and petition for asylum.
"I didn't know what was happening to me from one day to the next," said Bokombe. "Now, I see a future."
Bokombe hopes to apply for a work visa. He also hopes to continue volunteering in the gay community
Supporters have set up a fund at mhasd.org to assist with paying off the bail and applying for a work visa.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released the following statement to 10News:
"Consistent with its enforcement priorities, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has granted Mr. Bukombe deferred action for a two-year period to afford him further time to pursue legal options. At the end of that timeframe, ICE will reevaluate his case to determine appropriate next steps."