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Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Young Mexican journalist who traveled to the US seeking asylum has been detained for more than 100 days by ICE



Mexican journalist Martín Méndez Pineda (26), who traveled to the United States to seek political asylum because he feared for his life, has been detained for more than 100 days in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers.

“When I decided to come to the United States and seek refuge, I believed that I would be welcomed after presenting all of the necessary documents required by law. But when I arrived in the U.S., I found that this is not true and that only bureaucracy reigns. It is indeed more complicated than it seems, and it is true that all immigrants here are treated like criminals or drug traffickers. Sadly, now I too am experiencing it,” he wrote, according to RSF.

At the end of February 2016, Méndez – a journalist with the newspaper Novedades Acapulco in the state of Guerrero – was assaulted and threatened with death by a group of armed men.

The attackers were federal agents who broke into his home after the publication of his article: "Officers abuse and violate the rights of citizens.", according to RSF. In his article, the journalist reported that a person involved in a car accident with a patrol car suffered abuse from authorities.

Méndez immediately denounced the threat before the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH for its initials in Spanish) of Mexico. However, harassment and death threats continued via telephone for several months, so he fled to Tijuana, Baja California, according to the site RT.

Méndez contacted the international organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF for its acronym in French) for help, Gloria Amesquita, a legal assistant at the office of Mendez’s attorney Carlos Spector, told the Knight Center. Thanks to RSF, he was represented by Spector, of Mexicanos in Exilio, with whom he entered the United States, through the border entrance in El Paso, Texas, on Feb. 5, 2017.

The journalist brought all the documents required to apply for political asylum and voluntarily turned himself into the U.S. immigration authorities.

Since then, he has been transferred to other ICE detention centers twice, including one in New Mexico. He is currently at the El Paso Processing Center in Texas.

During one of his transfers, which lasted more than 20 hours, when he asked one of the officers for a drink of water, they replied to him and the rest of the detainees: "Stay quiet, nobody told you to come!  Let this teach you to not want to return!  Next time bear in mind that you will be detained in a federal prison for two years!” Amesquita said.

According to Amesquita, the procedure of detaining asylum-seekers worsened in 2016, and since then they have seen a decline in the number of people released by ICE after applying for humanitarian parole.

On March 1, Méndez passed the credible fear interview ICE uses to certify that the danger he faces is real.

However, on March 28 and later on May 4, 2017, ICE officer Alfredo Fierro, director of the detention center where Méndez is now held, informed Méndez's lawyer that his request for a parole had been rejected. The reason, according to Fierro, is that the journalist represents a “flight risk,” because he lacks strong ties with the community, published RSF.

The Knight Center tried to contact Fierro for a comment, but we did not receive a response.

This is despite the fact that in April, a priest in El Paso, Robert E. Mosher of Columban Mission Center, had sent Fierro a letter in which he offered Méndez all his support. In the letter, the priest informed the officer that éndez could count on lodging, food and spiritual guidance in his center’s facilities, so that he could attend hearings for his application for asylum while free.

In the case of Mexico, the rates of approval of asylum requests by an immigration judge are 1 to 2 percent, Amesquita said.

Regarding parole, she said that it is being used by immigration officials as one of the tactics of intimidation to discourage detainees and make them lose all hope, to opt for deportation instead of fighting their case.

“For years, it has been known that immigration officials use all forms of intimidation to influence the individuals to give up,” Amesquita said.

RSF reported in a press release published on May 3 that Méndez has a cousin in the U.S. who is a citizen. The organization also noted that Border Center for Journalists and Bloggers (BCJB) offered Méndez an unpaid internship so that he could practice journalism while continuing his application for asylum in the U.S.

“It seems an unjust situation that could be handled at the local level, even though we were told orders from Washington prohibit them from releasing him,” Mosher said, according to Fox News.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also sent ICE official Fierro a private letter in April requesting Méndez’s immediate release.

“Over the past five years, CPJ has documented over 450 cases globally of journalists being forced into exile from their homes due to work-related persecution. We understand that Immigration and Customs Enforcement must assess asylum cases on their merits, but the U.S. should set an example for the rest of the world by treating journalists at risk with dignity during this process,” Carlos Lauría, director of CPJ’s America’s program, wrote in the letter which the Knight Center was able to access. “When ICE declines to grant parole to a journalist who says he is fleeing persecution in a country where journalists face more dangers than anywhere else in the hemisphere, it sends a message that undermines press freedom around the world.”

Asylum is being criminalized and bail is being denied without any basis, "this has to be understood as a political attack on the Mexican community on the border," Méndez's lawyer told Spanish newspaper El País. For Spector, this is a reflection of the new immigration policy instituted by President Donald Trump since his arrival to the White House.

Méndez’s case has raised concerns among several international organizations. On May 3, before his parole was denied for the second time, several journalistic and human rights defense organizations called for his immediate release at a joint press conference.

In addition to RSF and CPJ, he is supported by the Border Immigration Council, International PEN International, Human Rights First, Diocesan Services for Migrants and Refugees, Immigrant Defense Center Las Américas, the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), and others. The aforementioned organizations have urged the U.S. government to release the Mexican journalist so he can pursue his asylum application in freedom.

Mexico, the deadliest Western country for journalists, ranks 149th out of 180 countries in the RSF 2017 World Press Freedom Index. So far in 2017, five Mexican journalists have been killed. The most recent journalist killed was Javier Valdez in Culiacán, Sinaloa on May 15. His murder led to national and international protests of violence against journalists in Mexico.

 

 



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