National Press Club

National Press Club award-winner Emilio Gutiérrez wins new asylum hearing

May 21, 2018 | By Kathy Kiely | kkiely@press.org

The U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has ordered a new asylum hearing for Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez-Soto, saying a judge needs to consider “additional evidence” supporting the National Press Club Freedom of the Press award winner’s case.

The BIA ruling, handed down last week, means the jailed journalist is, for the moment, safe from deportation.

Attorneys for the Gutiérrezes and the Press Club now plan to renew their request that Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities free Gutiérrez and his son, Oscar, from the Texas detention facility where they have been held since Dec. 7. That will allow to prepare for their new hearing and permit the elder Gutiérrez to accept a journalism fellowship that he has been awarded at the University of Michigan.

“It’s costing taxpayers more than $250 a day, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s own estimate, to jail two men who have done nothing wrong,” said National Press Club President Andrea Edney. “We implore ICE officials to exercise some mercy and common sense and let these two men go.”

Earlier this month, the Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowships at the University of Michigan invited Gutiérrez to join the distinguished journalists who will make up its 2018-2019 class of research fellows, an honor Gutiérrez can only accept if he’s free.

“We are ready and eager to welcome Emilio to the University of Michigan campus,” said Lynette Clemetson, executive director of the Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowships. “We want to give him the opportunity to resume the journalistic work that challenges corruption and makes communities safer — on both sides of the border.”

The Rutgers University Law School International Human Rights Clinic has filed a writ of habeas corpus to obtain the Gutierrezes’ release. The National Press Club, joined by 19 other professional journalism organizations, are supporting that writ as friends of the court.

Much of the evidence that the BIA wants an immigration judge to consider was submitted in a separate friend of the court brief filed in support of the Gutiérrezes’ asylum request by the National Press Club and its Journalism Institute, and supported by 15 other professional journalism organizations. The brief was prepared pro bono by First Amendment lawyers Charles Tobin and Steven Zansberg of the law firm Ballard Spahr and Mark Flores of the firm Littler Mendelson.

Gutiérrez fled Mexico in 2008 after his reporting on official corruption made him the target of death threats. A single parent, he brought his then-15-year-old son with him through an official port of entry on the U.S. border and requested asylum.

U.S. authorities initially determined the Mexican reporter had “credible fear” of returning to his home country and allowed him to settle in New Mexico. Last summer, however, an El Paso immigration judge denied Gutierrez’s asylum request, raising doubts about his credentials as a journalist and about the dangers facing him in Mexico.

In its friend-of-the-court brief, the Press Club offered evidence to support Gutierrez’s claims. This included 155 pages of news stories he wrote, unearthed by New Mexico State University Professor Molly Molloy. The Press Club brief also highlighted dozens of recent reports on the dangers facing journalists in Mexico. Among them was a scathing United Nations survey that concluded the Mexican government is allowing reporters to be murdered with impunity.

Since that brief was filed, the Congressional Research Service issued a report for U.S. lawmakers about violence against Mexico’s journalists. It noted a chilling effect on the reporting there.

“Increasing violent crimes against journalists and the impunity enjoyed by those who perpetrate those crimes have led to journalistic self-censorship in Mexico, inhibiting people’s access to information, government accountability, and freedom of expression,” the report found.

Since ICE first attempted to deport Gutiérrez late last year — an action stopped by the BIA — several more journalists have been murdered in Mexico. The most recent victim, Juan Carlos Huerta, was shot outside his home May 15 in what the local governor described as an execution.

“The dangers facing journalists in Mexico are real and present,” said Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club’s nonprofit Journalism Institute. “We need to grant Emilio asylum and return the U.S. to its long and venerable tradition of providing protection for truth-tellers.”