Honoring Detained Mexican Journalist Emilio Gutierrez on World Press Freedom Day
By Molly McCullen
Today—on World Press Freedom Day—award-winning Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto's awaits his fate in a detention facility in El Paso. Nearly nine years after he fled Mexico because of violent death threats, he remains locked up like a prisoner. His only “crime”— coming to the United States to seek his legal right to asylum.
In Mexico, Gutierrez and his family lived in the violent state of Chihuahua, where Gutierrez worked as a reporter for the local newspaper. After writing articles exposing corruption within Mexico's military, Gutierrez began receiving death threats. Fearing for his safety, Gutierrez, a single dad, fled to the United States with his then-15-year-old son in 2008. Once they arrived at the border, Gutierrez and his son legally requested asylum, telling a border agent "we're not afraid; we're terrified."
After seven months in separate detention centers, both Gutierrez and his son were granted visas permitting them to live and work in the United States while their trial was adjudicated. It wasn't until 8 years later that Gutierrez finally got his day in court.
In court last July, a judge denied Gutierrez's asylum claim, immediately prompting deportation proceedings. The judge claimed that since Gutierrez was not “tortured” in Mexico that he didn’t comply with the standards set out for asylum—a ruling that legal advocates quickly admonished. For the past eleven months Gutierrez and his son have been held in a detention center in El Paso, Texas, awaiting an appeal on their case.
Just this week, Human Rights First’s asylum advocates had the opportunity to speak with Gutierrez about his experiences in detention during the asylum process. Gutierrez described the decrepit state of the processing center, as well as inexorable methods of detention officers. "The treatment here is very criminal," Gutierrez lamented, "we haven't committed any crime, we just asked for some justice. Because of my work, I lost my family, I lost my country, and now I lost my liberty."
Sending Gutierrez back to Mexico would be tantamount to a death sentence. State Department data shows that, aside from war zones, Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. On World Press Freedom Day, we urge the Department of Homeland Security to release Mr. Gutierrez from detention and to grant him asylum here in the United States.
Every day, brave journalists like Emilio Gutierrez stand for the American ideals of freedom, truth, and justice, and are integral in sharing stories of corruption and violence. The least we can do is stand up for them. We stand with all journalists that are threatened or killed for doing their jobs; and we honor their bravery and dedication to ensuring that the world's most important stories are told.