The U.S. journalism community is rallying behind a Mexican journalist who faces deportation to his country, where, he says, he is certain to be killed.
Emilio Gutierrez, 54, and his son Oscar, 24, fled to the United States in 2008 after the elder Gutierrez reported on abuses committed by the Mexican military authorities that placed him on a hit list.
Father and son filed for asylum but were denied. The two men were taken into custody last Thursday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement while they were trying to file an emergency appeal.
Media representatives and press freedom advocates gathered at Washington’s National Press Club Monday to dramatize the case and call for the elder Gutierrez and his son to be granted asylum.
"I'm afraid to take one step into Mexico," Gutierrez told them by phone from the detention center in Sierra Blanca, Texas.
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. The media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says 11 journalists were killed in Mexico so far this year, making it second only to Syria for threats to journalist safety.
"Emilio should be granted asylum. The return to Mexico, which is structurally violent and where journalists are regularly targeted, is out of the question for him," said Emmanuel Colombie, director of RSF’s Latin American region.
Gutierrez received the Press Club's Press Freedom Award earlier this year for his work with El Diario del Noroeste newspaper in the state of Chihuahua.
Both he and his son were on the verge of being deported when their lawyer obtained a stay while their case is considered by the Board of Immigration Appeals.
The Press Club has launched an online petition asking that Gutierrez be granted asylum. "Mr. Gutierrez has no criminal record," it says. "He and his son, Oscar, have supported themselves in the food service industry while living in Las Cruces, New Mexico. They willingly surrendered in El Paso last week."
Press Club Executive Director Bill McCarren tweeted Tuesday that Gutierrez had been moved to a facility in El Paso. "Better access to lawyer there. Progress?" McCarren asked in his tweet.
Also Tuesday, The Washington Post, in an editorial, called for asylum for Gutierrez. Noting that the judge who denied Gutierrez asylum had cited an absence of documentary evidence to back up his claim, the Post said the judge’s application of the law was “cut-and-dried.”
"It’s not surprising that Mr. Gutierrez cannot recover copies of his articles, written more than a decade ago for a regional newspaper. Nor is it unusual that witnesses are reluctant to come forward, given the fear with which many Mexicans regard the security forces.”
Gutierrez and his son will remain in detention until the appeals board rules.