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A happy ending? Gay detainee "paroled," reunited with his fiancé

NEW YORK – A young gay man who was detained in San Diego by immigration authorities -- whose plight was documented by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News -- has been reunited with his fiancé in New York City. And marriage may be in their immediate future.

Ivan “Max” Flores Acosta, 26, was “paroled” last week from the Otay Detention Facility in San Diego County and immediately flew home to New York, said his fiancé, Donald Ziccardi, who sounded like the happiest guy in the world during a telephone call.

Ziccardi said he was overjoyed to be reunited with the love of his life. He had not seen Acosta since he was abruptly deported to Mexico in February.

“There was a lot of emotional embracing,” Ziccardi said, describing the moment of their reunion. “Max looked like he had lost weight, too much weight. I’m just so relieved to have Max home with me.”

The couple are now eagerly awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which discriminates against gay and lesbian couples. The high court must render its decision by the end of June.

“Once DOMA is stricken,” Ziccardi said, predicting the outcome, “we plan to marry and apply for a spousal visa.”

Acosta and Ziccardi have been talking about a wedding since New York state legalized same-gender marriage. Originally, they wanted a New Year’s Eve wedding in 2012, but that date came and went. Next they thought about Valentine’s Day nuptials earlier this year, but they said they could not pull it off.

Then the sky fell on Acosta. He was falsely accused of shoplifting a bottle of moisturizer, which he had pulled out of his gym bag while inside a drugstore in New York City. He was arrested, but the District Attorney’s Office determined that the bottle was half-empty and thus would be dropping the shoplifting charge and releasing him from jail.

Just when Acosta thought that his troubles were over, immigration authorities discovered that Acosta was an undocumented resident and detained him. For the record, Acosta has lived in America since he was 13, when his family legally arrived here carrying visas. He grew up in South Carolina, moved to New York when he was 19, and had been working part time and attending classes full time at a local community college with the goal of going to law school.

In February, Acosta was deported to Mexico, where he has no family or friends or support system. He had no money, no belongings and no job there. On March 15, a desperate Acosta tried to cross the border in El Centro, Calif., when immigration authorities detained him at El Centro Service Processing Center in Imperial County. He was later transferred him to the Otay Detention Facility in San Diego County.

In early April, Acosta and Ziccardi spoke exclusively with SDLGN to plead his case in the court of public opinion. The April 5 story detailed allegations of anti-gay abuse against Acosta by several detention officials as well as a denial of anti-seizure medicine critical to his well-being.

SDGLN’s article drew national attention to the case, and SDGLN partnered with LGBT activist and immigration expert Melanie Nathan of San Francisco to work behind the scenes to provide help to Acosta and Ziccardi. Nathan connected the couple to an immigration lawyer, who was very instrumental in moving Acosta’s case forward.

Acosta applied for political asylum, Ziccardi said, and “passed” his interview with federal authorities. The immigration lawyer was also able to move Acosta’s probation hearing from California to New York, so that the couple could be reunited.

“I think the SDGLN article helped Max’s case enormously,” Ziccardi said. “It brought attention to Max’s case. I also want to thank Melanie Nathan and our immigration lawyer for all their valuable assistance.”

Acosta, who contacted this author on Facebook and by email on Tuesday, said he was grateful for SDGLN's help.

"By publishing my story, you shed light on my case and that was conducive to justice was served. I can't thank you enough for all of your efforts. The world needs more journalists as dedicated and compassionate as you," Acosta said.

"I'm very happy to be out and free. My health is improving and I have gained back some of the 25 pounds that I lost while detained. Everything's a lot better," he said.

"I hope that DOMA will be ruled unconstitutional and that the immigration reform will be passed," Acosta said.

Stories like Acosta’s and Ziccardi’s – binational couples who want to marry and live happily ever after – continue to tug at heart strings. HRC estimates that 32,300 LGBT binational couples are living in the U.S. today. And until DOMA is struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court or repealed by Congress, these same-sex couples are being split apart whenever the government gets involved.

Ziccardi said the couple are “pretty confident” that they will prevail in court when Acosta is summoned to appear again before immigration authorities.

As far as the wedding? “As soon as the Supreme Court rules,” Ziccardi said, “we will make plans to marry!”

Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.