EL PASO, Texas – While many people prepare to celebrate the holidays, Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto remains in an immigration detention cell after seeking asylum because he fears he’d be killed if he returned to his native Mexico.
Gutierrez Soto, honored for his courageous reporting by the Washington, D.C. –based National Press Club and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, sits in a U.S. Citizenship and Immigraton Services (USGIS) cell in El Paso awaiting his fate. He was detained Dec. 7 when an immigration judge determined he would be deported.
“I can’t explain with words how shocking it is to see someone who has been honored in Washington and then the next time we see him he is in prison clothes,” said William McCarren, executive director of the National Press Club, a non-profit organization that represents more than 3,100 journalists worldwide.
The National Press Club began a petition in change.org for the release of Emilio Gutierrez Soto. Gutierrez Soto was honored in 2017 with the John Aubuchon Award for Press Freedom.
McCarren spoke Friday at a news conference after meeting with Gutierrez Soto for about 15 minutes with a few other people, including U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke earlier in the morning. McCarren also announced more than 18,000 people have signed the petition in support of Gutierrez Soto’s release.
Eduardo Beckett, Gutierrez Soto’s attorney, said an emergency stay of deportation is in force, but Gutierrez Soto could be deported soon.
“This is one of the worst areas in the whole United States for asylum seekers. Denial rate is almost a 98 percent denial rate when you compare it to other jurisdictions like California or New York,” Beckett said. According to data from the non partisan, non profit data research center, TRAC, at Syracuse University, El Paso’s five immigration judges handled 953 asylum requests between 2010-16 and had a denial rate of between 94 to 98 percent, depending on the judge. See comparative TRAC statistics here.
Nationally, the USCIS approved nearly 16,000 asylum applications in 2015, the most recent statistics available. The top five countries whose citizens were granted the most number of asylums were China, Guatemala, Honduras, India and El Salvador. Mexico ranked No. 8. Government statistics do not say how many people from each country were granted asylum.
Beckett has appealed Gutierrez Soto’s case to the Board of Immigration Appeals to stop deportation, and has requested he be released while the appeal is pending.
In 2005, he wrote a series of articles exposing the corruption of the Mexican government and its military.
Gutierrez Soto’s house was searched in 2008 by the Mexican military and he was threatened to stop his reporting or else he would be killed, Beckett said. Gutierrez Soto filed a complaint to the National Humans Rights Commission but they did nothing to provide him with safety, Beckett said.
“In Mexico, if you file a complaint whether it is with prosecutor’s office or the national humans rights commission it could be a death sentence,” Beckett said. “If you are an outspoken critic, or taking on the government, you are at risk to be executed.”
The National Press Club, along with Beckett and local officials, met with ICE agents in El Paso on Friday, demanding the release of Gutierrez Soto from custody to wait for the appeals case. However, their request was denied.
“They heard what we had to say; they did not credit what we had to say,” McCarren said.
This year, 12 journalists have been slain in Mexico, matching Syria, which is considered the deadliest country for journalists in 2017. Most recently, Gumaro Perez Aguilando, a crime reporter, was shot and killed while attending a Christmas party at his son’s elementary school in the city of Acayucan, in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Over the last decade, several Juarez journalists have been murdered, including Armando Rodriguez Carreón, known as “El Choco,” a police reporter for El Diario de Juarez. Others like Veracruz reporter Sergio Aldazaba continue reporting despite death threats.
“If Emilio is deported, we believe he will be killed,” McCarren said. “Sending Emilio back is not a standard deportation, he is at great risk of his life.”
Reporters Without Borders report that 149 journalists have been killed in Mexico between 2000 and September 2016.
Timeline of Events
2005 – Gutierrez Soto writes about the Mexico’s corruption in their military.
2008 – His house was raided by the Mexican military. According to his attorney, the Mexican military told Gutierrez Soto to “be nice, we are watching you. Don’t even think about making any noise.”
June 2008 – Gutierrez Soto seeks asylum in a border crossing near Columbus, N.M., where he is detained for seven months.
2009 – Released and granted employment authorization. Gutierrez Soto, along with his son, began working in a food truck in Las Cruces, N.M.
2017 – Gutierrez is denied asylum and detained on Dec. 7.