Mexican reporter seeking asylum is released after seven months in ICE detention and awaits new asylum hearing

Mexican reporter Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, who is seeking asylum in the U.S., was released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in El Paso on the afternoon of July 26 after seven months in detention.

Gutiérrez and his son Óscar have been in detention since December 2017 following a meeting with ICE. They were taken to a Border Patrol station at the U.S.-Mexico border to be deported when an emergency stay request stopped the procedure at the last moment. An El Paso immigration judge had denied their asylum claim five months earlier in July.

“He hasn’t done anything wrong. We were treating Emilio…as if he’s a criminal, when all he did was ask for asylum. So, I think that freedom is very, very important, but it’s the first step and the next step is to win the asylum so he can permanently stay in the United States,” Eduardo Beckett, Gutiérrez’s lawyer, told the Knight Center. “But to me, freedom is at the heart of his liberty interest, of being able to come back, to be part of the fabric of society and to participate and to continue to be a journalist and allow his son to continue his college.”

For the past seven months, the National Press Club (NPC) has fought for his release and asylum along with other press freedom organizations. Editorial boards and columnists of newspapers like The Washington Postand the Houston Chronicle also added to the voices in support of the Gutiérrez family.

It has been a long road for the family. The two turned themselves into the U.S.-Mexico border in June 2008and announced their intention to claim asylum after Gutiérrez said he was told members of the Mexican military were angry with his reporting and planned to kill him.

On January 30, 2005, El Diario published an article by Gutiérrez titled “Military members assault hotel in Palomas.” According to the article, six members of the Army and a civilian assaulted hotel guests, took their money, jewelry and personal items, and threatened them with death.

Six soldiers were arrested by Garrison personnel following the incident, but the owner of the hotel and customers did not file a complaint with the public prosecutor because of the threats, the article said.

Gutiérrez told publication Mother Jones that Army soldiers threatened him in downtown Ascensión in February 2005 and raided his house in May 2008.

After fleeing Mexico and arriving in the U.S., father and son spent time in detention before being released. Gutiérrez was able to work odd jobs and had a taco truck.

In November 2016, after years of waiting and postponements, Gutiérrez finally pled his case to a judge, but it was denied the following July. An appeal was denied by the BIA in early November 2017 because it was “untimely filed.” The father and son were detained in December. Then, the BIA ordered a new petition hearing in May 2018.

In March 2018, the Rutgers University Law School international human rights law clinic, along with Gutiérrez’s attorney Eduardo Beckett, filed a writ of habeas corpus for Gutiérrez’s release. One of the allegations was that Gutiérrez’s first amendment rights were being violated, Beckett told the Knight Center.

They also included a redacted ICE email dated February 2017– before Gutiérrez's asylum claim was denied– that was found through a Freedom of Information Act request and that showed Gutiérrez’s name on a Non-Detained Target List, Beckett explained.

“Emilio has been criticizing both governments since he got here and so to us, the evidence was clear that not only that, in addition to that, the transcripts from the immigration hearing also revealed the comments by ICE officials about the press, about him being a journalist, and so if you put all that together, to me at least it was very obvious that there was retaliation and reprisals for exercising those constitutional rights,” Beckett said.

In July, a judge found in Gutiérrez’s favor regarding the first amendment issues, but not on issues of due process, equal protection and APA claims. An evidentiary hearing was planned for Aug. 1 regarding whether Gutiérrez's constitutional rights were intentionally violated and the U.S. attorney was to hand over other emails and evidence in late July, Beckett said.

In his order, the judge cited Gutiérrez's presence on the Non-Detained Target List emails, as well as NPC Executive Director William McCarren's statements under oath that he was told by an ICE official to "tone it down." He also cited Gutiérrez's criticism of ICE and the U.S. government while accepting the John Aubuchon Press Freedom award from the NPC.

Now that father and son have been released, the evidentiary hearing will no longer happen and no further emails or evidence will be handed over, Beckett explained.

Gutiérrez’s case now returns to the immigration judge who first denied his asylum claim. His first hearing will be Aug. 16. Beckett previously told the Knight Center that he and his lawyers are armed with more evidence about the dangers for reporters in Mexico, as well as more than 155 pages of articles Gutiérrez wrote. He also has a friend of the court brief from the NPC and more than 15 other journalism organizations.

Beckett said other immediate plans include getting Gutiérrez to the University of Michigan for the Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship he was awarded.

Following his and his son’s release from detention, Gutiérrez told the Texas Tribune his son has been his inspiration to keep fighting.

“I understand and I share the pain with all the families who have come to this country in order to save their own lives,” he said, in reference to families recently separated at the border after seeking asylum.

Mexico is one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists and a vast majority of the murders of press workers go unpunished. The latest murder of a journalist was July 24 in Quintana Roo when reporter and director of Semanario Playa News, Rubén Pat Caiuch, was shot and killed. Director of the magazine Encuesta de Hoy, Luis Pérez García, was killed in Iztapalapa near Mexico City the week before.