Speakers protest detention of Mexican journalist on press freedom, moral, legal grounds

Speakers at a Jan. 19 press conference sponsored by the National Press Club and its non-profit affiliate, the National Press Club Journalism Institute, protested continued detention of Mexican journalist Emilio Guttierrez by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on press freedom, moral and legal grounds.

Andrea Edney, who became Club president less than two hours before the press conference, introduced the program as her first official act and promised her commitment to the case.

The first speaker, Club Executive Director Bill McCarren, reminded attendees that nothing had changed since the last press conference on Dec. 11. Guttierrez is in the same place despite having no criminal record and not being a danger to the public, McCarren said. Guttierrez had reported corruption in the Mexican military and sought asylum in the U.S. because he feared for his life, McCarren said.

McCarren and Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, who represents the El Paso area, visited Guttierrez Dec. 22. The congressman’s statement in support of Guttierrez was read during the press conference.

Meanwhile, the signatures on the online petition to release Guttierrez have climbed to 95,000, McCarren said.

ICE claims Guttierrez would be a flight risk despite having no passport and being trackable by an ankle bracelet if he were released, McCarren said. Meanwhile Guttierrez’s detention costs taxpayers $127 a day, McCarren added. He noted that Guttierrez and his son had supported themselves with a food truck during the nine years of waiting for their asylum application to be considered.

McCarren called ICE tactics “throwing sharp elbows” against the press.

Kathy Kiely, 2017 Press Freedom Fellow of the Institute, spoke by phone from the University of New Hampshire where she now teaches. She reminded the group of the nine years’ wait for the asylum claim to be reviewed. It was rejected and Guttierrez was scheduled to be deported, but the deportation was stayed by the Bureau of Immigration Appeals. ICE continues to detain him while his asylum is again under consideration. She rejected the ICE claims that he is a flight risk pointing out that for nine years he regularly checked in with immigration authorities. She further rejected their claim that he is not a journalist by saying he was working as one when he fled Mexico.

The final ICE claim Kiely rejected is that he failed to mention an incident in 1999 when a border guard cancelled his border crossing card for five years, suspecting Guttierrez of living in the US. He was not accused of fraud or charged. “This feels like an ex post facto rationalization,” she said.

Mark Seitz, bishop of the El Paso Catholic Diocese, also spoke by phone, saying he takes the “moral perspective.” He and Eduardo Beckett, pro bono attorney for Guttierrez, visited the detainee a week and a half ago. Seitz reported that Guttierrez was frustrated and depressed. The bishop called detaining law-abiding people seeking asylum “contrary to some of our most fundamental American values.”

Beckett was the final phoned-in speaker. While underlining the points made by previous speakers, he decried tactics used by ICE. He said he is hopeful that the case will be decided on its merits. He believes that would be a significant public benefit because of the salutary effect if the U.S. government acknowledges the risks to journalists and the need to protect them.