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SAN DIEGO – Joseph Bukombe, a professional musician who has been living in San Diego for several years, was released Friday night from federal detention in Otay Mesa after spending two years fighting deportation to Uganda, where his return could endanger his life.
Friends and supporters raised $10,000 for his bail by holding fundraisers and making online pleas for help.
"Thanks to all the 70 donors who contributed to bail for Joseph Bukombe who was released from Otay Mesa last night," the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle wrote in an email to friends and supporters on Christmas Eve.
"He enjoyed his first meal with friends in San Diego at a Kenyan restaurant with friends and wanted to express his deep appreciation to everyone who helped to secure his release after two years in prison," Ogle wrote.
"Joseph and his close friend Hector Martinez will be attending Midnight Mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral tonight in San Diego," Ogle said.
Bukombe was in the United States on a cultural exchange visa, which expired. He chose not to return to Uganda, one of the most homophobic nations on Earth, because its parliament continues to try to pass the so-called "Kill The Gays" bill. As an orphan with only a sister living in Kampala, Uganda's capital, he has no support system there and believed that he would be killed should he be deported.
A news report by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, which has a global audience spanning 166 countries, helped gain widespread attention to Bukombe's case. Bukombe's friend, Hector Martinez, said at a fundraiser in San Diego last week that SDGLN's story spurred TV coverage and got the attention of both of California's U.S. Senators.
Ogle’s St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, a San Diego-based organization that aims to encourage communities to develop reconciliation projects, also became involved in the effort to free Bukombe.
Now that Bukombe is free, he must complete the terms of his bail. Martinez and Ogle said that Bukombe's former boss would rehire him after his release, and he has a number of friends in San Diego who have promised to look out for him. The next legal step to fight deportation is an an appeal, and Bukombe's supporters are hopeful because of the Obama Administration's new policy toward LGBT immigrants who face persecution or the threat of death in their homeland.