National Press Club

National Press Club, Journalism Institute to Board of Immigration Appeals: Free Emilio

December 15, 2017 | By Kathy Kiely | kkiely@press.org

The National Press Club and its nonprofit Journalism Institute are asking the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals to grant asylum to NPC Press Freedom award-winner Emilio Gutierrez, a Mexican journalist now imprisoned in El Paso.

“We are stepping out of our normal role as observers to advocate in this case because we believe the precedent that could be set is so ominous, not only for the safety of our colleagues but for the future of free speech,” wrote NPC President Jeff Ballou and Journalism Institute president Barbara Cochran in a letter to the Board of Appeals.

An arm of the Justice Department, the Board of Immigration Appeals stayed an attempt by U.S. Immigration and Customs officials to deport Gutierrez earlier this month. But now ICE is holding him at an El Paso facility where his attorney, Eduardo Beckett, says he must sleep on a cold, concrete floor. Beckett sent the Press Club a photo of Gutierrez in shackles two months after he was honored on the dais of the National Press Club.

The Press Club is asking the appeals board to grant Gutierrez the asylum he has been seeking for nearly a decade, and his freedom. The reporter left Mexico, along with his then-15-year-old son, in 2008 after a confidential source told him he was on a hit list for reporting abuses by the Mexican military.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House and the United Nations. Speaking by phone from his jail cell during a National Press Club press conference last week, Gutierrez said he has been told repeatedly that he will be killed if he returns to Mexico.

Deporting Gutierrez could be “tantamount to death sentence by immigration judge,” Ballou and Cochran warned in their letter.

Gutierrez, who had been living and working in Las Cruces, New Mexico, while his asylum case was being adjudicated, has been detained by ICE since last week, when Board of Immigration Appeals issued a stay of his deportation. Initially shipped to Sierra Blanca, a remote Texas facility 90 miles from his lawyer, Gutierrez has since been returned to El Paso.

The National Press Club has asked ICE officials why Gutierrez is being detained; so far our questions have gone unanswered.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders alerted us that, at a press conference Thursday where he appeared with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, reporters asked Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan about Gutierrez’s case. Sullivan did not address specifics but said: “Freedom of the press is an indispensable component of a functioning democracy. And so we’re concerned whenever we hear reports of journalists being targeted.”

Nearly 10,000 people so far have signed the National Press Club’s petition on Change.org to #FreeEmilio.

The full text of the letter to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals is below.