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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Appeals board agrees to reconsider case of Mexican journalist seeking asylum in the U.S.



U.S. immigration officials have agreed to take another look at the case of a Mexican journalist who fled his country nine years ago due to threats on his life.

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) agreed to reconsider an appeal filed on behalf of Emilio Gutiérrez Soto and his son. An El Paso immigration judge denied their claim in July of this year, and an initial appeal to the BIA was denied in early November because it was “untimely filed.”

Emilio Gutiérrez Soto (Personal photo)

“Upon consideration of the arguments and evidence presented with the motion, we agree that reinstatement of the respondents’ appeal is warranted in the interest of fairness,” the BIA wrote in a decision dated Dec. 22.

Since the BIA has decided to reinstate the appeal, Gutiérrez cannot be deported, the journalist’s lawyer Eduardo Beckett told the Knight Center. However, he and his son remain in detention.

“No journalist or even any asylum seeker that’s credible, has no criminal history, is not a threat to national security, is not a threat to the community, has a place to live, should be treated like a criminal, and be detained, caged in like an animal,” Beckett said.

The National Press Club (NPC), which has led a campaign on Gutiérrez’ behalf, also called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release the father and son while the BIA reconsiders the case.

NPC Executive Director Bill McCarren and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who represents El Paso, met with Gutiérrez and ICE officials on Dec. 22 before the BIA’s latest decision was received.

I’ve seen a lot of people that have PTS (post-traumatic stress), and it seems that Emilio is suffering,” McCarren said, according to the El Paso Times. “He wanted us to know that he’s strong in his conviction, and he appreciates very much what [Eduardo] Beckett has been doing, but he’d very much like to be free.”

Beckett said that during the visit, he was also able to file signatures of support for the journalist, gathered by NPC, as part of his client’s parole package.

The decision from the BIA is the latest development in the case after the board granted Gutiérrez and his son an emergency stay on Dec. 7. The decision was handed down just as ICE agents were in the process of deporting the father and son. Despite being saved from deportation, the two have been in detention since.

Gutiérrez’ case recently gained international attention from journalism advocates and has made national headlines in the U.S.

Both the Washington Post and Houston Chronicle have called for him to be granted asylum.

As a U.N. report published this month concluded, citing the deaths, disappearances and attacks on dozens of journalists tallied by Mexico’s Human Rights Commission, ‘The data . . . presents a picture for the situation of journalists in Mexico that cannot be described as other than catastrophic,’” the Post editorial read. “Against that background, it seems cavalier to dismiss the threat Mr. Gutierrez faces should he be deported to Mexico. He should be granted asylum.”

Beckett told the Knight Center that Gutiérrez is depressed, but happy after hearing the BIA’s decision to reconsider the appeal and overwhelmed with support from international organizations. However, Beckett said the journalist’s health is deteriorating.

Gutiérrez worked at Diario del Noroeste in the state of Chihuahua before fleeing to the U.S. with his son in June 2008 out of fear for their lives. He had been told the Mexican military planned to kill him due to his reporting on alleged abuses against civilians by military members. The journalist turned himself into U.S. officials at the border and declared his intent to claim asylum, but was placed into detention for more than seven months. His son was held separately for a shorter period of time.

In the past nine years, the Gutiérrez family has been through numerous postponements of its case and has faced multiple threats of deportation. During that time, Gutiérrez has been critical of corruption in the Mexican government and its alleged links to criminal groups.

Violence against journalists in Mexico has also continued at record rates during that time, as well. A recent report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found historic levels of murders of journalists in Mexico, despite global decreases in the number of journalists killed for their work. The number of journalists killed in the country this year alone ranges from six to 13, depending on the organization reporting the numbers. Mexico also ranks sixth on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which lists the countries where journalists’ murders go unpunished.



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