National Press Club

Lawyers file writ of habeas corpus for National Press Club award-winner Emilio Gutierrez

March 6, 2018 | By Kathy Kiely |

Arguing that the U.S. government’s detention of a National Press Club award-winning journalist violates the Constitution and international law, human rights attorneys on Tuesday are filing writs of habeas corpus for Emilio Gutiérrez Soto and his son, Oscar.

The move opens a second legal front in the effort to free the Mexican journalist, detained for nearly three months in an El Paso Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center despite never having violated U.S. law. Gutiérrez, whose reporting led to death threats in his home country, is seeking asylum in the United States. That case is before the Board of Immigration Appeals. Appeal briefs are due March 19.

Lawyers involved in the both cases will be available at a 2 p.m. press conference Tuesday in the Bloomberg Room of the National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C.

Authored by Professor Penny Venetis and her students at Rutgers University law school’s international human rights clinic, the writ of habeas corpus invokes a right against unjustified detention that dates back to the Magna Carta. It calls the U.S. government “hypocritical” for condemning censorship and human rights violations abroad while threatening and detaining a reporter at home, and it cites President Donald Trump’s persistent attacks on Mexicans and journalists as evidence that Gutiérrez and his son are victims of discrimination. Earlier this year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a conservative bench, found that the president’s words could be used as evidence of discriminatory intent.

Among other evidence presented to bolster the Gutiérrezes’ case:

  • A report from a psychiatrist who examined Gutiérrez and diagnosed him with PTSD, brought on at least in part by the actions of U.S. officials, and,
  • A letter from the U.S. State Department that describes the widespread threats facing journalists in Mexico – sometimes at the hands of government officials. An El Paso immigration judge earlier this year denied the Gutiérrezes asylum request by arguing that officials in their home country would protect them.
  • An affidavit from Press Club Executive Director Bill McCarren describing how an ICE official warned Gutiérrez’s advocates to “tone it down.”

“We are enormously grateful to Professor Venetis and her students at the Rutgers University law school for taking on this case,” said National Press Club President Andrea Edney. “Agents of the U.S. government are effectively trying to ‘disappear’ a man whose only ‘crime’ is journalism. We are hoping the venerable tool of habeas corpus will pry open Emilio’s cell.”

More than 20 other professional journalism organizations have joined the Press Club in calling on the U.S. government to release Gutiérrez and his son and grant them asylum. So have the editorial boards of The Washington Post, the Denver Post, and the Houston Chronicle. The National Press Club’s #FreeEmilio petition at now has nearly 100,000 signatures.

“Emilio Gutiérrez has now been persecuted by two countries for his journalism,” said Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club’s non-profit Journalism Institute, which advances the club’s press freedom advocacy. “Nonetheless, he — and we — still have faith in the rule of law. We are counting on our legal institutions to show that the United States is still a haven for free speech and legitimate asylum-seekers.”

Gutiérrez fled Mexico 10 years ago after learning that his reporting on official corruption had landed him on a hit list. A single father, he brought with him his then-15-year-old son. They requested asylum as they came through a port of entry in New Mexico.

Initially detained — and separated — for several months, the father and son eventually were released while their case was adjudicated. They settled in Las Cruces, New Mexico and found work in the food service industry, eventually buying their own food truck. They waited until 2017 for their day in court, only to be denied asylum by a judge who questioned Gutiérrez’s credentials as a journalist and argued that they could find protection in Mexico, the deadliest country in the Western hemisphere for journalists.

On Oct. 4, while his asylum case was pending, Gutiérrez spoke at the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award dinner. At the invitation of the Club, he accepted the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award on behalf of his country’s press corps.

On Dec. 7, during a routine check-in, ICE officials suddenly announced they were deporting Gutiérrez and his son. Despite the pleas of their lawyer, Eduardo Beckett, the agents refused to wait for the Board of Immigration Appeals to rule on an emergency stay. Happily, for the Gutiérrezes, the BIA’s stay came through within minutes — before ICE delivered the terrified father and son over to the country they fled for their lives. Upon returning them to El Paso, however, ICE officials placed the Gutiérrezes in detention, where they have been ever since.

Although the Gutiérrezes never missed an immigration appointment during their decade in Las Cruces, ICE officials told the National Press Club that the two are a “flight risk.”

Since they have been detained, their home has been broken into and the food truck they used to earn their living has been stolen.

According to estimates by the Department of Homeland Security, it costs U.S. taxpayers $127 a day to house each of the two in detention.

Contact: Kathy Kiely, National Press Club Journalism Institute Press Freedom Fellow, 202-256-4748