Mexican reporter seeking asylum will return to court with new evidence and support from U.S. journalism community

The lawyer for Mexican reporter Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, who has been in a detention center in El Paso, Texas since December 2017, says he has new evidence to convince the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to grant the journalist asylum.

The U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ordered a new asylum petition hearing for Gutiérrez Soto ten years after he first turned himself into immigration authorities at the U.S.-Mexico border. In a document dated May 15, the BIA ruled that a judge needs to consider “additional evidence.” While he awaits a new hearing, he cannot be deported.

“He was very close to being deported,” Eduardo Beckett, Gutiérrez Soto’s lawyer, told the Knight Center. “For us, to go from losing your case and almost being deported, to now the Board of Immigration Appeals saying the judge had it wrong and, based on this new evidence that basically talks about all the concerns that the judge had, we were able to say the judge was wrong and this is why, and they (the BIA) agreed with us, so it’s very positive.”

Gutiérrez Soto and his 24-year-old son Óscar were detained by ICE agents in December 2017, and taken to a Border Patrol station at the border to be deported. The deportation did not happen due to a emergency stay request. Five months earlier, in July 2017, an immigration judge had denied their asylum petition.

The journalist appealed the judge’s decision in November 2017, but the appeal was denied because it was “untimely filed.” On December 22, the BIA agreed to reconsider the case.

Gutiérrez Soto is from Chihuahua, Mexico, and turned himself into authorities at the U.S.-Mexico border in June 2008. There he expressed his intentions to claim asylum. He said he’d been told the Mexican military planned to kill him due to his reporting on alleged abuses against civilians by military members.

The new evidence for the journalist's case includes a letter from the U.S. State Department explaining that Mexico is the second most dangerous country for journalists, after Syria, as well as dozens of recent reports on the dangers facing journalists in Mexico. They also have a United Nations survey pointing to impunity in the murders of Mexican reporters, The National Press Club said.

“They [the State Department] are contradicting everything that ICE says. ICE says ‘we should deport him, he wasn’t tortured, he can go back, he can get bodyguards,’” Beckett said.

However, the lawyer said that some officials of the Mexican Government have told him in private that if Gutiérrez Soto goes back to his country, he most likely will be killed even if he gets bodyguards.

“They told me that the mechanisms in Mexico are not adequate to protect him, and that he would be killed, and the Government is not going to be able to protect him,” Beckett said.

More than 155 pages of articles that Gutiérrez Soto wrote also are part of the evidence and show the type of journalistic work he carried out in Chihuahua.

The National Press Club and more than 15 other journalism organizations filed a friend of the court briefbefore the BIA in support Gutiérrez-Soto's case last March. Separately, the Rutgers University Law School International Human Rights Clinic filed a writ of habeas corpus for his release and was joined by twenty other professional journalism organizations supporting the writ as friends of the court.

One more thing that Gutiérrez Soto has in his favor is the Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowship that the University of Michigan offered him. According to Beckett, that not only demonstrates support from journalistic and academic institutions, but also Gutiérrez Soto's credentials as a journalist.

The Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowship is a one-year program that includes $75,000 plus $5,000 for moving expenses, and health insurance. However, the journalists must be free to accept in order to join the program.

“He entered [the United States] legally. He asked for asylum, that’s a status, ‘asylum pending status,’” Beckett said. “With that status you can have a work permit, which Emilio has, his son has it. You can get a driver license, you can work, you can go to the university. If the asylum is granted, the status changes to asylee.”

Beckett said that in recent days, people like former Mexican President Vicente Fox and American journalist Bill O’Reilly joined the voices advocating for the liberation of Gutiérrez Soto and his son.

“For me and for Emilio, this is great,” Beckett said. “Now there’s a possibility that he will be granted asylum. It’s not a done deal yet but I would fight the decision all over again. For me it seems that this case should be granted.”

Support has also come from editorial boards and columnists for numerous U.S. newspapers, including The Washington Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Houston Chronicle.  A Change.org petition to stop his deportation has gathered almost 100,000 signatures.

Beckett said that they should now wait for the date of the new hearing and the judge that will preside over the case. The BIA’s ruling was addressed to the same judge that denied the asylum in the first instance, even though the procedure is that cases of people who are under detention -like Gutiérrez Soto- are assigned to a different judge for revision. Therefore, the judge will have to decide if he will take the case or pass it on to someone else.

In Beckett's professional opinion, he believes a new judge should take the case.

The lawyer said that, since he was detained, Gutiérrez Soto is depressed and has shown PTSD symptoms, besides the fact that he has lost weight. Even though he is with his son, both of them live in conditions similar to being in prison. The lawyer said that before it was not very common to detain asylum seekers, unless there are enough reasons, which is not the journalist’s case, since he does not have a criminal record and did not enter the U.S. illegally.

“He told me once ‘for doing my job as a reporter, look at the consequences. I am detained like a criminal. And the saddest thing for me, the hardest part, is not that, I don’t care, but my son, the suffering of my son,’” Beckett said.