As part of our 20something series, we meet a 23-year-old UCLA student from Central America. Aidan Caballero left behind a traumatic childhood 12 years ago -- and he's part of some 2,000 refugees who seek political asylum in the U.S. every year because of their sexual orientation.
SCOTT SHAFER, HOST: Today in our series 20something, we meet a 23-year-old UCLA student from Central America who left behind a traumatic childhood. As Raquel Estupinan explains, he's part of an estimated 2,000 refugees who seek political asylum in the U.S. every year because of their sexual orientation.
RAQUEL ESTUPINAN, REPORTER: Aidan Caballero is cooking spaghetti and chicken in his off-campus apartment. It looks a bit like a wood cabin. It's cozy, and the living room and kitchen are decorated with a UCLA banner and immigrants' rights posters. Aidan and his roommates are all immigrants from Latin America. Upstairs, the apartment's only bedroom is packed with a tri-bunk bed, two twin-sized beds, and a few desks in between.
AIDAN CABALLERO: Yeah, I love this place. I have four wonderful roommates, you know, they're all female. I never thought this would happen. Being a gay man living with all four girls.
ESTUPINAN: Aidan also never thought he'd have to remake his whole life here, thousands of miles from home. He left Honduras when he was 11, carrying the emotional scars left by a violent father who beat him, and an uncle who sexually abused him.
CABALLERO: I was crying every night. I was crying to God, like please help me, and don't let me be gay. At some point I started changing that and saying, 'God, let things happen as they should and just keep me safe.'
ESTUPINAN: Aidan's family settled in San Jose, California in 2001. Although he was a quiet kid, he blossomed in high school. He got into UCLA [and] came out as gay there. As he began to flourish, his father was arrested for a homicide he'd committed in Honduras, and the U.S. immigration authorities deported him. Aidan's mother and sisters voluntarily returned home. But that's when Aidan decided his life depended on him staying out of his home country.
CABALLERO: America is my home. I don't consider Honduras my home because how could I consider a place my home where they're very?hazardous to my life. I don't want to be living in fear or knowing that I could die tomorrow, just because people are very homophobic over there.
ESTUPINAN: Although Aidan doesn't have a green card or a visa, he's allowed to remain in the U.S. for now. In 2009, he applied for political asylum fearing anti-gay persecution in Honduras. Human rights groups have recorded at least 62 homicides in the LGBT community in Honduras since 2010. One year later, under pressure from the U.S. to take action, the Honduran government formally set up a unit to investigate murders and hate crimes against the LGBT community.
CABALLERO: If anyone sees me hanging out with a guy, coming in, out of my apartment ? people see all that stuff. And at some point, the truth comes out. Maybe I might be walking home someday and be attacked. That happens every day in Honduras.
ESTUPINAN: Since 1994, the U.S. has recognized gay people as eligible for protection under asylum law. But under the law, Aidan can never go back home.
CABALLERO (ON THE PHONE): Hola, mami. Hola, como estas? Muy bien, como esta?
ESTUPINAN: Aidan hasn't seen his family in more than two years. Right now they don't have enough money to come see him graduate next spring. All he has for now are the 15-minute weekend phone calls to his mom, 3,000 miles away.
CABALLERO (ON THE PHONE): Que le quiero mucho. Se cuida.?Ok, Ma. La quiero mucho.
ESTUPINAN: Aidan says juggling work and school is exhausting. At one point, he worked two jobs to raise $4500 in legal fees. And now to afford tuition, he takes time off from working toward his philosophy degree to work the drive-thru window at a burger joint. Sometimes Aidan thinks he sees a familiar face.
CABALLERO: I saw this little girl that looked like my little sister, right. And knowing that all my family is in Honduras, I just had to tell my crew workers, 'Okay, I'll be back.' And I went to the bathroom, and I started crying, because to me, I just thought, I'm working here, I'm tired, I barely sleep, I want to see my family, but I can't. I can't leave this country because I could die, you know, in Honduras. All these things I don't have because of a paper. Just one paper.
ESTUPINAN: One document that Aidan says may literally make the difference between protection and persecution. In California, Aidan has a support system -- a sort of surrogate family. He met a gay couple six years ago who unofficially adopted him.
CABALLERO: The way I see it is, I'm here for a reason, maybe it's to make that change that is to be needed, you know what I mean ? either as a professor or as a lawyer, or as a judge.
ESTUPINAN: Aidan was supposed to meet with an immigration judge in March. But for the third time, it was postponed another year. In the meantime, he says he can't put his life on hold, and he continues to plan his future. After he graduates, Aidan hopes to work to raise enough money for law school, and either become a professor of law and ethics or a practicing attorney.
For The California Report, I'm Raquel Estupinan in Los Angeles.