Emilio Gutierrez
Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez accepts an award from the National Press Club in 2017. Photo credit: Noel St. John / National Press Club

Over the past 11 years, Emilio Gutierrez has been on a roller coaster — detained two times and threatened with deportation, then given reprieves.

Emilio Gutierrez once had a stable career, home, and family in Mexico. That was before the journalist began to write his investigative reports about crimes committed by members of the military in Chihuahua, Mexico. After death threats started coming, Gutierrez and his teenage son fled Mexico in 2008, seeking asylum in the US.

Over the past 11 years, Gutierrez has been on a roller coaster — detained two times and threatened with deportation, then given reprieves. The roller coaster turned again last week. In 2009, US immigration officials gave him temporary asylum in the US, believing that his record of reporting on government malfeasance made him a credible target in Mexico, particularly after the many death threats he received.

For eight years his petition for permanent asylum languished. During much of that time, he was unable to find work in his profession, and looked for any work to get by. In June 2017, when his petition was finally heard, the judge dismissed his fears, claiming that the Mexican government could protect him from harm.

His lawyers appealed, and the journalism community took up his cause. In the fall of 2017, Gutierrez received a press freedom award from the National Press Club and accepted it on behalf of all Mexican journalists. Speaking at the award ceremony, the journalist criticized US immigration policies.

Noting the pain exiled journalists and their families experienced, and the ill treatment of those seeking asylum, he castigated US immigration authorities “who barter away the international laws.”

Just a few weeks after his public rebuke of the Trump administration, Gutierrez and his son were threatened with immediate deportation, even though their case was still pending.

We first wrote about the journalist in November 2017, when it appeared his return to Mexico was imminent.

His lawyers were able to stop that from happening. Nevertheless, he was held in a detention center in El Paso for eight months.

Finally, last July, it looked like Gutierrez’s case had turned a corner. He was released from detention and permitted to accept a journalism fellowship from the University of Michigan while his case was being considered.

But this March 7, his asylum appeal was denied, with deportation once again on the horizon. A judge did not find his fears of retribution credible. In 2018, nine Mexican journalists were murdered.

Sadly, the story we ran in November 2017 continues to be relevant.

In 2008, Emilio Gutierrez fled Mexico because of serious death threats. Ten years later, he faces imminent deportation.

You would think that President Donald Trump would understand the plight of Mexican journalists whose reporting on drug traffickers and government corruption have led them to flee for their lives. After all, he appears to understand that Mexico often can be a very dangerous place.

Yet neither the Trump nor the Obama White House seems to have understood the danger these reporters are in. Instead, immigration officials have been largely deaf to legitimate requests for asylum, even when journalists’ stories make it very clear which side they are on and why they must flee.

Consider the case of journalist Emilio Gutierrez. After living in limbo in the US for a decade, Gutierrez may be sent back to Mexico as soon as this week.

On November 16, Gutierrez was summoned to a meeting by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. Officials threatened to deport him that day. On Friday, November 17, an immigration judge refused a request from his lawyer to stay the deportation order.

The rush to judgement on the Mexican journalist, after he’s spent a decade in immigration limbo, seems suspicious.

Just six weeks ago, Gutierrez was honored by the National Press Club with its Press Freedom Award, an honor he accepted for all Mexican journalists who are now, as he put it, “immersed in a great darkness.” Gutierrez also spoke out against the way US immigration authorities have treated him and his Mexican colleagues.

Mexican journalists have been held hostage by a violent drug war south of the border, as well as corruption in the Mexican military given the power to stop it — a state of affairs the Mexican government has seemed unable to address.

Gutierrez was working for a newspaper in the Mexican state of Chihuahua when he and his teenage son fled the country in 2008 — after learning that an officer in the Mexican military had ordered his murder, and after 50 soldiers had raided his home. The reprisals followed his reports that Mexican soldiers had robbed people trying to flee the country and cross into the US.

You would think that a respected journalist with credible evidence, including press clippings, would be able to make his case for asylum pretty rapidly. But that has not been the case. After turning himself in, Gutierrez spent more than seven months in detention in the US. (His son was able to leave detention sooner and stay with relatives.)

His requests for an asylum hearing were met with Kafkaesque delay from US immigration officials. National Press Club President Jeff Ballou charged that the journalist had been a victim of “bureaucratic indifference.”

Unable to work as a journalist in the US, Gutierrez sold his house in Mexico, and even operated a food truck for a time to get by. His requests for asylum hearings faced repeated delays, lasting years.

It took him eight years to get a hearing, and then he learned that his documentation was not sufficiently persuasive. That was last year, and now, the US seems to have decided to order deportation before Gutierrez’s appeals have been exhausted.

Given how sensitive this White House is to criticism, it seems likely that Gutierrez’s remarks angered somebody at the Department of Homeland Security. But denying him asylum — an almost certain death sentence — seems a bit over the top, even for Trump and his cabinet.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls Mexico the Western Hemisphere’s “deadliest country for the media. When journalists cover subjects linked to organized crime or political corruption (especially at the local level), they immediately become targets and are often executed in cold blood.” In 2017 alone, 11 journalists have been killed.

Gutierrez has done nothing wrong. He poses no threat to the US. Indeed, he would be an asset to this country, having demonstrated both courage and integrity as a dogged reporter. All of this nation’s major journalism groups are standing with this journalist, whose deportation, they assert, “not only puts an individual reporter in danger, but also would have a chilling effect on truth-telling everywhere.”

If the president wants to earn the media’s praise, he could start by giving this one Mexican reporter the asylum he so richly deserves.

Update: Gutierrez was minutes away from deportation on Dec. 7 before the US Board of Immigration Appeals issued a stay in his case. He is now being held at a detention camp in El Paso.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from DemocracyNowEs / YouTube (Creative Commons Attribution license – reuse allowed).

Comments are closed.