National Press Club

Press Freedom Advocates Seek Asylum for Mexican Journalist

December 5, 2017 | By Kathy Kiely | kkiely@press.org

For the second time this year, U.S. immigration policy is putting a Mexican journalist’s life at risk.

Unless the Board of Immigration Appeals overturns a July 19 decision by El Paso Immigration Judge Robert Hough, Emilio Gutierrez Soto will be deported to Mexico, a country he fled nearly a decade ago after his reporting on corruption in the military made him a target.

For Gutierrez, a 2017 winner of the National Press Club’s prestigious John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, an unfavorable decision could be tantamount to a death sentence.

The dangers for reporters operating in Mexico have been well documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists, by Reporters Without Borders and by Freedom House. It was to recognize the risks they are taking that the National Press Club earlier this year invited Gutierrez to accept the Press Freedom Award on their behalf.

Two days after Gutierrez accepted the award Oct. 4, another Mexican journalist, Edgar Daniel Esqueda, was murdered, according to CPJ. Ten days later, shots were fired at a Quintana Roo television station.

In an open letter to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto over the summer, Reporters Without Borders said Mexico is now one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

But just two weeks after Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Christophe Deloire penned his letter, Hough handed down a ruling, denying Gutierrez and his son the asylum they sought in the United States and questioning why Gutierrez could not entrust himself to the safekeeping of the same Mexican government that once threatened him. Some Mexican journalists have attempted to take advantage of the protection that the government has promised. One of them, Candido Rios Vasquez was brutally murdered Aug. 22 in Veracruz.

In a statement to the Press Club, Gutierrez offered a much dimmer view of the situation. “We can’t nor want to return to our country,” he wrote. He described the Mexican military as an “elite unit of organized crime, very well organized,” adding that: "Until a judge decides on our request to stay our deportation, we are standing on the staircase to the gallows."

Numerous outside organizations corroborate Gutierrez’s view, including Freedom House, a non-profit that receives substantial financial support from the U.S. government. It has written of “violence against journalists carried out with impunity” in Mexico.

On Wednesday, the United Nations issued a scathing report concluding that the Mexican government is failing to live up to its promises to protect journalists.

Nonetheless, Hough concluded that “despite evident problems with the Mexican government, there is no basis for concluding that the Mexican state and its officials would participate in torturing” Gutierrez.

The threats to Gutierrez and his son follow unfortunate case of Martin Mendez, another journalist who fled to the United States following threats of reprisals for his reporting.

Despite a finding that Mendez had “credible fear” of returning to his home country, ICE refused to parole Mendez from a prison fit for the most malicious felon while his asylum case was being adjudicated. After months in legal limbo, the 27-year-old gave up and returned to Mexico, where he has remained in hiding since June under the protection of Reporters Without Borders.

Rather than deporting brave Mexican journalists, U.S. officials should permit them to stay in the country where they can continue their valuable work from this side of the border.

Jeff Ballou, president
National Press Club

Barbara Cochran, president
National Press Club Journalism Institute

Dan Shelley, executive director
Radio Television Digital News Association

Margaux Ewen, acting North America director
Reporters Without Borders

Rebecca Baker, president
Society of Professional Journalists

John Donnelly, president
Military Reporters and Editors

Mark Hamrick, president
Society of American Business Editors and Writers

Sandy Johnson, president and COO
National Press Foundation

Alberto B. Mendoza, executive director
National Association of Hispanic Journalists

Sarah Glover, president
National Association of Black Journalists

Melissa Lyttle, president
National Press Photographers Association

Suzanne Nossel, executive director
PEN America

Yvonne Leow, national president
Asian American Journalists Association

Lowell Peterson, executive director
Writers Guild of America, East

Margaret Engel, director
The Alicia Patterson Foundation

Dr. Celeste González de Bustamante, associate professor
School of Journalism, Center for Latin American Studies
University of Arizona

Joshua Hatch, president
Online News Association

Alfredo Carbajal, president
American Society of News Editors

Jason Zaragoza
Association of Alternative Newsmedia

Courtney C. Radsch, advocacy director
Committee to Protect Journalists

Bruce Brown, executive director
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Bernard J. Lunzer, president
NewsGuild-CWA

Contact: Kathy Kiely, National Press Club Journalism Institute Press Freedom Fellow, kkiely@press.org, 202-256-4748 or John Donnelly, chair, National Press Club First Amendment Team, jdonnelly@cq.com