February 6, 2018
William P. Joyce
Acting Field Office Director
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
11541 Montana Ave., Suite E.
El Paso, TX 79936
Dear Officer Joyce,
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom advocacy organization, urge you to grant parole to Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, a Mexican journalist who is seeking asylum in the United States, and his son, Oscar, on humanitarian or significant public benefit grounds. Gutiérrez and his son have lived here without incident for the past nine years while awaiting a ruling on his asylum case. There is no reason for them to be detained.
Before arriving in the U.S in June 2008, Gutiérrez was a reporter for the newspaper El Diario de Noroeste, based out of Ascención, a town in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua near the Texas/New Mexico border. The journalist said he began receiving death threats in 2005 after he reported on military human rights abuses in the area. In May 2008, approximately 50 soldiers searched Gutiérrez’s home. Shortly after this, a friend told the journalist the army intended to murder him. CPJ spoke with Luis Chaparro, a prominent local reporter, who corroborated that Gutiérrez received multiple threats, including death threats, in relation to his reporting, and that soldiers had searched his home.
Gutiérrez, along with his son, fled to the U.S. in June 2008 shortly after the home search, and requested asylum at the Antelope Wells Border Crossing Station in New Mexico. Once Gutiérrez was released after seven months in detention, father and son stayed in Las Cruces, New Mexico. While awaiting a verdict in their asylum cases, they established ties in the community and regularly attended check-ins and hearings.
Despite their diligence, Gutiérrez and his son lost their cases on appeal in July 2017. On December 7, Gutiérrez and his then 24-year-old son arrived at the ICE office in El Paso for what they believed was a routine check-in and were detained by ICE agents. Both have been held in detention since.
Though the Board of Immigration Appeals has reinstated the Gutiérrezes’ right to appeal, both father and son have been denied parole. We urge you to reconsider this decision.
Gutiérrez is not a flight risk. He has consistently cooperated with ICE and has shown his commitment to completing the asylum process legally. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Ossorio, who has known Gutiérrez and his son since 2011, has spoken to Gutiérrez’s character and offered his own house as collateral for the journalist’s release. Community members like Charles Campbell, Virginia Herrick, and Jacqueline Wyer wrote letters on Gutiérrez’s behalf and attested to his community involvement, including volunteer work at a local church and founding an organization to provide asylum education to journalist who have fled Mexico–Mexicanos en el Exilo.
In communication with CPJ, ICE officers said they are holding the Gutiérrezes under Executive Order 13768, which prioritizes the deportation of “removable aliens.” However, this directive does not apply in the Gutiérrezes’ cases as they entered the U.S. legally, did not abuse any public benefit program, have not been charged with a crime, and pose no safety risk. Additionally, their appeals have been reopened, further disqualifying the Gutiérrezes from the category of “removable non-citizens.”
If Gutiérrez and his son were deported to Mexico, both would face possible retaliation for Gutiérrez’s past reporting on corruption in the Mexican military.
Mexico remains the most dangerous country for journalists outside of conflict zones, and last year the number of Mexican journalists killed in direct retaliation for their work reached a historical high. CPJ has documented nine journalists murdered in Mexico last year, and has clearly established that at least six of these were in direct reprisal for the journalists’ work. Reporters who have been part of Mexico’s journalist protection program have complained to CPJ of institutional dysfunction and a lack of safety despite those measures. Already in 2018 unknown assailants killed a journalist in the northern state of Tamaulipas.
There is a clear and overwhelming public interest in releasing Gutiérrez and his son, and allowing them to remain in the U.S.: their detention directly contradicts U.S. foreign policy. In 2016, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, said that promoting press freedom and journalists’ safety is of the “utmost importance,” and U.S. government programs support Mexico’s Mechanism to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Defenders, and the Merida initiative to combat impunity.
Gutiérrez’s continued detention sends a chilling signal to journalists worldwide who look to the United States as a beacon of press freedom and place of refuge. The United States must be unwavering in its support for the hundreds of journalists who flee their homes out of fear of reprisal.
Committee to Protect Journalists
Board of Immigration Appeals
Department of Justice
5107 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041