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#Pride30: Once a Refugee, Attorney Luis Mancheno Fights for Immigrants

Among Luis Mancheno’s many identities, the gay immigration attorney and refugee is most proud to call himself a U.S. citizen.

Through his work with the Immigration Justice Clinic at the Cardozo School of Law, the attorney helped thwart President Trump’s travel ban, which sought to temporarily exclude immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. Now the Ecuadorian is telling his own story of asylum.

Attorney Luis Mancheno Alex Pigeon

“It’s important for people to see that a Latino immigrant refugee gay is doing something good, doing something important for the community, and to really find humanity in my story,” Mancheno told NBC Out.

The advocate escaped persecution in Ecuador in 2007 after a night out with friends ended in a brush with death. Someone slipped a drug into his drink at a gay bar, he said. The rest is a blur.

“The next thing that I remember I woke up and my car has crashed into a lamp post,” recalled Mancheno.

His head throbbing, Mancheno stumbled out of the car. He saw that a gay slur had been written across the door, and that the car would have careened off a nearby cliff if not for the light post.

“I said I am not going to wait for a lamp post to save my life the next time, so I decided to leave the country,” he said.

Mancheno arrived in Oregon on a student visa in 2008 with just $200 in his pocket. While studying at Willamette University, he received asylum in the U.S. A few years later, he earned a law degree from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.

Throughout law school, Mancheno represented immigrants in court. In 2013, he worked for the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, where he represented detainees in Arizona. Many of his clients were transgender women “who suffered horrible, absolutely horrible forms of violence,” according to Mancheno.

“Lots of them have been victims of murder attempts or rape or all sorts of sexual violence and physical violence,” said the attorney.

A year later, Mancheno joined the Bronx Defenders as an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow in New York, where he represented detainees. He became a U.S. citizen in 2016, an event the 30-year-old considers a milestone.

“It made a complete change in the way that I saw things and it really gave me this sense of belonging to this country,” he said.

Mancheno is currently an immigration attorney and clinical teaching fellow at Cardozo School of Law's Immigration Justice Clinic. When the advocate isn’t busy defending clients, he’s using his platform to spread awareness about “the importance of not allowing fear to dictate the laws and the policies of this country.”

“That is a huge challenge,” Mancheno said. “The way I have been trying to fight that challenge first of all is to tell my story, because my story has a lot of power.”

Fun Fact: "I love makeup and dressing up -- especially when I’m going out on a Friday or Saturday night. I think it’s also a political statement, and it feels great to do that, but also [I am] really and truly enjoying my freedom. And it’s pretty."

Pride Means: "It’s the celebration of being different. Celebration of [being] alive while being different, and I think that at the same time an occasion for our community to come together and say, 'We’re here, we’re not going anywhere, we’re happy, we’re fabulous, and we will put a fight for our rights."

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