In a consequential victory for press freedom, the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals has ordered a new asylum hearing for Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez, who, along with his son, has been held at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in El Paso, Texas, since December.
This bodes well for Gutierrez, who fled to the U.S. from his home in the state of Chihuahua in 2008 after being tipped off he had been put on a hit list by a rogue faction of the Mexican military, on whose activities related to robberies of emigrating Mexicans at the U.S. border he had reported.
Gutierrez sought asylum and was allowed to live freely in the U.S. for more than eight years while his case was pending, until shortly after he gave a speech at the National Press Club in Washington criticizing U.S. policy toward immigrants from south of the border.
He was ordered to report to an ICE office, where he was threatened with immediate deportation back to Mexico. His case was then rushed through U.S. Immigration Court, where his request for asylum was denied. Only through his attorney’s quick appeal was Gutierrez allowed remain in the U.S., although at the detention facility in Texas.
In February, Gutierrez told the Los Angeles Times he remained convinced that if he is forced to return home to Mexico he will be killed. In fact, he said, he already felt “like I’m another dead journalist.”
In March, the RTDNA Voice of the First Amendment Task Force, formed in 2016 to defend against threats to press freedom and help the public better understand why outstanding responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives, joined in an amicus brief supporting Gutierrez’ appeal. The next month, RTDNA joined a second amicus brief supporting the efforts of him and his son to be released from custody.
In its decision ordering a new hearing, the Board of Immigration Appeals noted evidence provided in the March amicus brief regarding the dangers still facing many journalists in Mexico. This was information not available to Gutierrez at his initial, rushed, hearing in December.
“While the Board does not ordinarily address information for the first time on appeal, … [g]iven the arguments and evidence proffered on appeal, we will remand this matter to permit the Immigration Judge to address this new evidence in the first instance and issue a new decision,” the board wrote.
“We are proud to join the National Press Club Journalism Institute, which is spearheading efforts on Emilio’s behalf, in its continuing endeavor to compel his immediate release from detention so that he may be able to help prepare for his new asylum hearing,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director. “It is far past time for the injustice to which he has been subjected to stop.”
If Gutierrez and his son are denied asylum in the United States, the Mexico to which they would be deported remains extremely dangerous for responsible journalists who dare to exercise their obligation to shine a light on corruption.
Just last week, on the morning of May 15, Juan Carlos Huerta drove his silver BMW out of his neighborhood in Villahermosa, in the Mexican state of Tabasco, near the Yucatan Peninsula. Within moments, he would be dead.
According to Tabasco Gov. Arturo Núñez, a truck rammed into Huerta’s car, blocked his path, and then at least one gunman opened fire, leaving the local radio and television journalist dead.
It was the fourth murder of a journalist in Mexico so far in 2018. Eleven were permanently silenced in 2017.
It was also the latest in a string of journalist murders fueled at least in part by the drug-infused power struggle that began when the Mexican government cracked down on cartels a few years ago and was exacerbated by the 2017 deportation to the U.S. of drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
“What’s been happening the past several years to journalists in Mexico – a North American neighbor, not a region in some other part of the world where literal attacks on journalists have historically been more common – is unconscionable. Emilio Gutierrez and his son, and any other responsible journalist legitimately seeking safe haven in America, should receive it,” Shelley said.