Mexican journalist languishes in Texas detention

Emilio Gutiérrez Soto began fearing for his life when approximately 50 armed soldiers entered his home in Ascensión on May 5 without a permit. They told Gutiérrez they were searching for “weapons or drugs,” he told CPJ. The soldiers did not find any evidence of illegal activity and left. Gutiérrez said he believed the search was meant to intimidate him for articles he had written about harassment charges alleged by citizens since the military began anti-drug trafficking operations in Chihuahua last year.

Gutiérrez decided to flee Mexico on June 14, when a trusted source overheard a military official talk about a plan to kill the journalist for reporting on alleged military crimes. Gutiérrez grabbed his 15-year-old son, clothes, his press pass, and left for the U.S. border.

Gutiérrez, 45, a correspondent for the Ciudad Juárez-based El Diario del Noroeste in the city of Ascensión, in the northwestern border state of Chihuahua, Mexico, remains in a detention center in El Paso, Texas, nearly three months after seeking political asylum in the United States.

After reaching the U.S. border, the journalist and his son claimed political asylum to Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint in Columbus, New Mexico. Gutiérrez and his son were then taken to separate detention facilities in El Paso, Texas. In August, his son, who was held in a juvenile detention center, was released and remains with relatives in the United States. Gutiérrez continues to push his asylum case.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in Chihuahua state so far this year as drug cartels battle to control smuggling routes to the United States. The government has also deployed soldiers and federal police to the state in an attempt to crack down on crime. International and local human rights groups have called into question the government strategy, arguing that law enforcement agents are infringing civil liberties as they go about the crackdown.

In a phone interview with CPJ from the detention center, Gutiérrez said that he hopes to find out this week whether he will be able to petition his case from outside the detention center. “I have no intention to hide from the authorities,” Gutiérrez said. “My son is in the U.S. now, and I would like to see him and present my case while free.”

A decision on whether Gutiérrez will be granted political asylum may not arrive until December, said Carlos Spector, an immigration lawyer in Texas who is defending Gutiérrez. Spector considers Gutiérrez’s case tough. Political asylum in the United States is not automatically granted because of fear of violence or threats by government forces.

If Gutiérrez and his son are denied asylum, they must return to Mexico, an option that the journalist said is impossible. “They’ll kill me if I go back,” he told CPJ.