A Mexican journalist's fight for asylum and a free press

Photo: Democracy Now!

Emilio Gutierrez Soto, a journalist who fled certain assassination in his native Mexico, has just been released from an immigrant detention center in Texas. He and his son Oscar were detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) last December, two months after Emilio received an award from the National Press Club, where he publicly denounced the asylum process. Last week, a federal judge ordered both Emilio and Oscar released, noting that evidence suggested that Emilio was targeted by ICE for speaking out. Gutierrez Soto’s case is emblematic of the cruelty of President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigrants and asylum-seekers, as well as Trump’s increasingly vitriolic disdain for the free press.

In 2005, Emilio wrote a series of articles documenting corruption in the Mexican army in his home state of Chihuahua. He refused to stop reporting, and, in 2008, received an urgent call from a friend who had heard that Emilio was about to be killed. Emilio grabbed his vital documents and his 14-year-old son, and fled for the U.S. border. Emilio and Oscar were detained for several months upon arrival, then released as his asylum claim made its way through the lengthy process. Speaking at the award ceremony at the National Press Club in October 2017, Emilio said: “The murder cases, the disappearances and the exiles is a constant suffering and source of pain for our families.… Those who seek political asylum in countries like this, like the United States, we encounter the decisions of immigration authorities that barter away the international laws.” Two months later, he and Oscar were arrested.

The National Press Club’s executive director, Bill McCarren, immediately began advocating for Emilio and Oscar. He went to El Paso with Congressmember Beto O’Rourke to meet with ICE. McCarren was told to “tone it down” by the ICE’s local general counsel, Elias Gastelo. McCarren took that to mean that they should be less public in their campaign to support Emilio: “We are here to shed light, when we believe someone is being arbitrarily detained. It is our job to ensure everyone knows his name,” McCarren told “Democracy Now!” shortly after the meeting.

During the seven months of ICE detention, Emilio witnessed firsthand President Donald Trump’s cruel immigration crackdown. “Life in that concentration camp is extremely harsh. What the immigration authorities seek is to finish you off psychologically, and we’re trying to resume our lives in liberty, in semi-liberty,” Emilio told “Democracy Now!” Wednesday, just days after U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama ordered his release. Emilio recounted the anguish he shared with the many parents in detention with him, separated from their children, not knowing if they would ever see them again. More than 700 children still remain separated from their parents.

While Emilio is optimistic following the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as Mexico’s new president, he remains critical of the current Mexican government: “The Mexican Consulate in El Paso is an agency that is totally at the service of ICE; it does not protect the interests of Mexicans at all. The consul takes great pleasure in being friends with William Joyce, who’s the field director of ICE.”

While Emilio and Oscar are out of detention, they are still under supervision of ICE’s internal security. “We hope that in coming days the immigration authorities, particularly ICE, will return to us our Social Security cards and the other documents that they confiscated from us,” Emilio said. In addition to receiving the National Press Club’s John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, he was also named a Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow by the University of Michigan. He is expected to be at the Ann Arbor campus on Aug. 27, but fears that ICE is delaying the release of his documents, preventing him from traveling, to punish him.

“We have such a moral commitment on our part, my son and myself, to raise awareness and foster greater solidarity among human beings as a way of strengthening our peoples, our education and our social conduct. We have a lot of work to do,” he said, adding, “I have a lot to write.”

Emilio Gutierrez Soto and his son Oscar deserve political asylum. Emilio might have been another statistic, one of scores of Mexican journalists killed in the line of duty. But he survived by fleeing to the United States. His hard-earned perspective is needed as a new day dawns in Mexico and anti-immigrant prejudice consumes the White House.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Truthdig.

Photo: Democracy Now!

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