National Press Club

New suit beefs up effort to free Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez from federal detention

March 6, 2018 | By Gilbert Klein |

Human rights attorneys filed a second law suit March 6 in their effort to free from federal detention a Mexican journalist who won the National Press Club’s Aubuchon Freedom of the Press Award last October.

The suit argues that the detention of Emilio Gutierrez Soto and his son Oscar violates the U.S. Constitution and international law because they have been held by the federal government for three months without being charged with a crime.

“In the United States you can’t be thrown into jail if you haven’t done anything wrong, and that’s exactly what has happened to Emilio and Oscar," said Penny Venetis, a Rutgers University human rights law professor, who spoke at a press conference in the Club.

“It’s a real tragedy that someone who should be treated as a hero is treated like a criminal who has no protection except for us,” she said.

From the time of his detention, the Club has taken up the Gutierrezes’ cause, working with attorneys on law suits to seek their freedom and rallying the public to support their release. A petition the Club launched now has nearly 100,000 signatures.

The suit filed Tuesday seeks a writ of habeas corpus, which is one of the oldest principles in British and American law, that says no one can be held without charges.

“We believe they are being detained unlawfully, and we believe several provisions of the Constitution are being violated by their detention, as well as provisions of international law,” Venetis said. “Every year, the United States calls to task other countries that are doing exactly what the U.S. government is doing to Emilio.”

She claimed that Gutierrez is being held in part because he is a Mexican, and President Trump has repeatedly attacked Mexicans during his presidential campaign and during his administration. And they are being held because Emilio is a journalist, another group that Trump has personally attacked.

“We are using these statements to show that there is an anti-Mexican bias throughout the administration, especially in immigration,” she said. “It is fueling anti-Mexican policy, and it violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.”

Club President Andrea Edney called on the Trump administration to free Gutierrez and his son. “They pose no flight risk,” she said. “These are people who did nothing wrong. They followed all the rules. They came to this country seeking asylum for valid reasons.”

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic House member from El Paso who on Tuesday won the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. Ted Cruz, issued a statement in support of action.

“Our country’s asylum laws were designed to provide refuge for brave individuals, like Emilio, who have risked their lives in pursuit of the truth in countries dangerous for reporters,” he said. “I strongly support the legal efforts to ensure that Emilio and Oscar can return home. We cannot stand for freedom of the press abroad when we do not stand for those same freedoms at home.”

Gutierrez was a journalist 10 years ago writing stories that revealed corruption in the Mexican government. Learning that he was on a hit list to be murdered, he and his son fled the country and sought asylum in the United States. His petition for asylum has been pending all of this time, and Venetis said he had appeared regularly when required to renew his request. As an asylum seeker, she said, he and his son are protected as long as his request is pending.

They lived modestly in Las Cruces, New Mexico, with valid work permits to operate a food truck.

In October, Gutierrez received the Club’s Aubuchon Freedom of the Press Award in the name of all journalists working in Mexico, which has become the most dangerous place to be a journalist outside of a war zone. Nearly 20 journalists were killed in Mexico last year.

On Dec. 7, during a routine check-in, ICE officials suddenly announced they were deporting Gutierrez and his son. Despite pleas of their lawyer, the agents refused to wait for the Board of Immigration Appeals to rule on an emergency stay. Fortunately for the Gutierrezes, the BIA’s stay came through within minutes before ICE officials could get them across the border.

But ICE officials placed them in detention, where they remain today. ICE insists they are a flight risk. It has questioned Gutierrez’s journalism credentials and it says they will be protected by the Mexican government if they return.