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Gay man seeking asylum: I can't return to Indonesia

By Sarah Hoye, CNN
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Man seeking asylum: I can't go home
  • Anton Tanumihardja came to the U.S. from Indonesia in 2002
  • He applied for asylum because of his sexual orientation
  • He faced deportation on Valentine's Day, but got a last-minute reprieve
  • His attorney says his case spotlights inequalities for same-sex couples applying for asylum

Philadelphia (CNN) -- Anton Tanumihardja had his bags packed, anxious about his flight back to his home country, Indonesia. It was a trip he did not want to make after spending the past eight years in the United States.

He feared his absence would mean the end for his relationship with his boyfriend. In a bitter twist, he would be leaving on the night of Valentine's Day.

At the last minute came a temporary reprieve: Federal immigration officials issued a stay of deportation just three hours before his flight was to take off.

Tanumihardja, who is openly gay, has filed for political asylum, fearing persecution if he is forced to return to Indonesia. He says his homeland is not tolerant of homosexuals.

Although the order gives Tanumihardja more time in Philadelphia, it does not guarantee he can stay forever. It remains in effect until authorities decide whether to reopen his political asylum application.

Tanumihardja, 45, came to the United States in 2002 with a tourist visa from Jakarta, Indonesia. After his visa expired, he filed for political asylum and received a work permit while his case was being reviewed.

When his asylum application and subsequent appeals were denied, immigration authorities told him he had to leave on Monday.

"I got a lot of support from the people who love me and want me to stay," Tanumihardja said before breaking down into tears. "I do not expect anything in return from this country. I just want my status to be legal here."

In addition to his sexual orientation, Tanumihardja is ethnic Chinese and Catholic, making his return to Indonesia more daunting because he would be a triple minority in the predominantly Muslim country.

"Going back to my country means I have to be closed," he said, referring to his sexual orientation. "I cannot come out in my country and have to be hiding who I am."

The root issues of Tanumijardja's case are more complicated than simply deporting someone for an overstayed visa or denying a political asylum application, according to his attorney, Lavi Soloway.

The case sits at the intersection of gay rights and immigration reform, he says.

"Our whole immigration system, 80% of the cases are based on family unification, it's about keeping the family together," Soloway said. "But this just doesn't register with the LGBT community. It's a reflection of anti-gay discrimination."

Tanumihardja started dating Brian Andersen last fall, and they have been inseparable ever since.

Andersen, 28, is an American citizen. If they were heterosexual and planned to marry, Tanumihardja could possibly have been sponsored for residency, Soloway argues.

Under current U.S. law, the sponsorship option does not exist for same-sex couples.

Tanumihardja, who has a degree in accounting and marketing, works at Coventry Deli in downtown Philadelphia where he also doubles as the bookkeeper.

He will continue his fight to stay, he said.

"I do my best for this county, I love this country," he said.

Soloway says he fears for Tanumihardja if he is forced to return to Indonesia.

"He is a gay man who has had the opportunity to live openly as a gay man in Philadelphia. And now he's going back to live where in order to survive, you cannot be open," Soloway said. "We guard against taking for granted our freedom to be with those we love."

The last-minute stay of deportation has Tanumihardja and Andersen relieved, but cautious.

"This is the best we could of hoped for at this point," Andersen said after hearing the news. "It's something that is very real and happening."