According to U.S. and Mexican news reports, reporter Emilio Gutiérrez Soto was released on Thursday from a detention center in El Paso, Texas, where he had been held for seven months while awaiting an immigration hearing. Gutiérrez illegally entered the United States in June fearing for his life and that of his son after receiving multiple threats in his home state of Chihuahua.
The reporter’s immigration hearing is scheduled for March, press reports said. His lawyer, Carlos Spector, told the Los Angeles Times that unlike most people who illegally cross the border, Gutiérrez had not been given a quick hearing. Meanwhile, immigration authorities had released the reporter’s 15-year-old son Oscar in August to relatives living in El Paso. Gutiérrez told reporters that he was relieved to finally be reunited with his son, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Gutiérrez, who worked as a correspondent for the Ciudad Juárez-based daily El Diario del Noroeste in the city of Ascensión, told CPJ that he fled Mexico after repeated incidents of harassment and alleged threats from members of the Mexican army. The reporter said he asked for political asylum as soon as he entered the United States at a checkpoint in Columbus, New Mexico.
It is not yet clear whether Gutiérrez or his son will be allowed to stay in the United States. Political asylum is not routinely granted on grounds that an individual fears violence or threats by government forces, according to CPJ research. During a September interview with CPJ, Gutiérrez said he feared he would be killed if forced to return to Mexico.
CPJ has found that Mexico is one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work in Latin America. Since 2000, 24 journalists have been killed, at least eight in direct reprisal for their work. Those reporting on drug trafficking and corruption are particularly vulnerable, more so if they are covering the Mexico-U.S. border.