Supporters of a gay Nigerian man who fled his native country following a bigoted beating by a mob appealed to federal immigration officials Friday to release him while he pursues asylum in the U.S.

Udoka Nweke took about a year to get to the San Ysidro border on Dec. 22, 2016, according to his attorney, Josie Roberto. He has been in custody ever since, she said.

Historically, asylum seekers have been able to post bond and stay out of custody while their case winds through the system, but that trend has shifted under President Donald Trump’s administration, Roberto said.

Nweke was beaten by an angry mob in his homeland, leaving him hospitalized for a few days, Roberto said. Because of that incident, it became known that Nweke is gay, “so he went into hiding,” she said, noting that Nigeria has laws prohibiting homosexuality.

With help from his family, Nweke fled the country and made his way through South and Central America to the U.S. border, Roberto said.

“He fears he will be killed if he returns,” Roberto said.

Nweke was likely drawn to the U.S. because the granting of gay marriage rights and other advances in equality for sexual orientation has resonated globally, Roberto said.

Nweke’s supporters held a news conference in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Santa Ana on Friday morning to call for his release while his case is pending.

Nweke’s asylum appeal was rejected, but Roberto said her client was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in February, so she is appealing for another hearing based on the claim that he wouldn’t have been mentally healthy enough to participate in the original hearing.

Fellow native Nigerian Ola Osaze of the Black LGBTQ Migrant Project has met and talked with Nweke. Osaze said he made the same appeal for asylum, which was granted in 2008.

Since Nweke’s appeal for asylum was denied, his supporters figured going public with the cause was their last option, Osaze said.

“All we have left is organizing and making a lot of noise,” Osaze said.

Under the Trump administration, “more and more people are being detained,” Osaze said.

Osaze said Nweke attempted to take his own life while in custody and his supporters would like him to get out of jail so he can get the treatment he needs during his appeal.

Sarah Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for ICE, said Nweke was ordered to be returned to Nigeria on Jan. 3. He remains in custody during his appeal, she said.

“Mr. Nweke, like all ICE detainees, was examined by medical and mental health professionals when he arrived in ICE custody,” Rodriguez said. “In the ongoing evaluation of his health, medical professionals have determined that Mr. Nweke does suffer from mental illness, which is managed with medication and closely monitored by mental health professionals. Furthermore, Mr. Nweke has not attempted to end his life while in ICE custody; claims to the contrary are false.”

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