Emilio Gutierrez

Mexican reporter Emilio Gutierrez detained by ICE while appealing denial of asylum

December 7, 2017

Emilio Gutierrez Soto, a Mexican journalist who fled to the United States seeking asylum in 2008, faces risk of deportation and has been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in El Paso, Texas since December 7, 2017.

Gutierrez worked for approximately 25 years as a correspondent in Mexico. In May 2008, he said, approximately 50 armed soldiers entered his home without a permit claiming they were searching for “weapons or drugs”, but left after finding no evidence of unlawful activity. At the time, he was writing for the Chihuahua-based El Diario del Noroeste.

In June 2008, he said, a source informed him that he was on a “hit list” due to his reporting on the military, and Gutierrez fled Mexico with his then-15-year-old son.

Eduardo Beckett, Gutierrez’s attorney, said that his client was offered physical protection by the Mexican government but declined it because he doubted the government’s ability to effectively protect him.

Later that year, Gutierrez claimed political asylum at a border checkpoint in Columbus, New Mexico, and he and his son were taken to separate detention facilities in El Paso, Texas. His son was released to family in the United States in August 2008, and Gutierrez was released in January 2009.

While awaiting an asylum decision, Gutierrez and his son settled in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and regularly completed their required check-ins with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.   

On July 19, 2017, nearly a decade after Gutierrez’s original application, El Paso judge Robert Hough denied his asylum request, on the grounds that Gutierrez’s testimony was not credible, he had not sufficiently established fear of torture, and that the Mexican government could protect him.

Beckett, Gutierrez’s lawyer, believes that the judge underestimated the risks that Mexican journalists face. He told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that, although Gutierrez has not received specific threats from the Mexican military since entering the United States, the reporter still believes he would be killed if he returned to Mexico.

“The threat is still viable, and military people have long memories,” Beckett said.

Gutierrez’s attorney filed appeals to reopen the asylum case, and filed a motion for stay of removal on November 20, 2017.

While Gutierrez awaited review of his appeal, ICE agents detained him on December 7, 2017 at what his attorney said was supposed to be a routine check-in.

ICE agents served Gutierrez and his son with deportation papers, and walked them towards the port of entry. His attorney acquired an emergency stay of deportation, but they both were taken to an ICE facility.

Beckett said that it was technically legal for ICE to deport his client, since a judge had already been made on his asylum request, but that the deportation attempt was still very unexpected and unusual, since Gutierrez had an appeal pending and there were irregularities in the case.

The U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals agreed to reconsider his deportation order on December 22, 2017, but Gutierrez and his son remain detained in ICE custody. Beckett expects a decision on Gutierrez’s appeal within three and eight months.

Asked for comment, ICE public affairs officer Leticia Zamarripa would only confirm that, “Emilio and Oscar Gutierrez, citizens of Mexico, remain in ICE custody pending disposition of their immigration cases.”

In 2017, Gutierrez accepted the Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, which honors journalists who demonstrate the principles of press freedom and transparency in governments through their work.

Beckett believes that by granting his client asylum, the United States would be promoting democracy. “We’re in a time right now where journalists around the world are being threatened,” he said.

Outside of war zones, Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 42 journalists and media workers were killed there in 2017 alone.

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