The RTDNA Voice of the First Amendment Task Force and other press freedom organizations have launched an effort to protect a journalist from Mexico who has been threatened with deportation from the United States. The task force is calling on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “to suspend efforts” to send him home.
In 2008, Emilio Gutierrez, a newspaper reporter from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, fled to the U.S. with his teenage son after a source tipped him off that the Mexican military had ordered his murder, and after 50 troops had raided his home, all in apparent reprisal for news stories in which he exposed soldiers who had robbed people trying to cross the border into this country.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, with which RTDNA frequently partners on press freedom issues, murders of journalists in Mexico have increased dramatically since 2004. In 2008, when Gutierrez fled to America, two journalists were murdered in his native country. So far this year, Reporters Without Borders, another frequent RTDNA partner, puts the number at 11 and states this:
Gutierrez followed all the rules for seeking asylum in the U.S. in 2008. He turned himself in to American authorities at the New Mexico border. He formally requested asylum, and a hearing where he could prove that his life was in danger in his native Mexico.
The response from our government? Crickets. Jeff Ballou, the president of the National Press Club, which earlier this year gave Gutierrez its Press Freedom Award, describes the Obama And Trump administrations’ responses as “bureaucratic indifference.”
Gutierrez was allowed to stay in the U.S., but had to spend the next seven months in detention. His son was allowed to live with relatives. But his hearing request went nowhere for eight long years. Emilio wasn’t able to work as a journalist in the United States, so he sold his home in Mexico and ran a food truck in New Mexico to make a little money.
Last year, he finally got his hearing. But despite volumes of convincing evidence in his favor, an immigration judge denied asylum. Gutierrez was left to live his life in limbo.
Then, on November 16, just a few weeks after he accepted the National Press Club’s award, at which time he criticized U.S. immigration authorities for the way they treat Mexicans in general, and Mexican journalists in particular, he was summoned by ICE to a meeting in El Paso, Texas, where he was threatened with deportation that very day. His attorney went to a judge who the next day denied a request to stay the deportation order. Gutierrez is appealing.
“Forcing Emilio Gutierrez to go back to Mexico is tantamount to giving him a death sentence,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director. “We call on the federal government to stop its apparently punitive efforts to deport him and put his safety in grave danger.”
The task force believes the timing of the sudden escalation of efforts to force Gutierrez back to Mexico, which occurred shortly after he condemned U.S. immigration policy in a public forum, is suspect, to say the least.
“Gutierrez, even though he is a Mexican citizen, should be afforded the same free speech rights on U.S. soil as every American enjoys. If the abruptness of the government’s attempt to send him back to his home country, where he has received credible threats to his life, is connected to his criticism of current U.S. immigration policy, that makes the move even more unacceptable,” Shelley added.
In May, ICE deported another Mexican journalist seeking asylum, Martin Mendez Pineda of Acapulco, despite the fact he, too, had received death threats in retaliation for his work as a reporter.
Pending Gutierrez’ appeal, ICE has set a new deportation date for him – and his son, too, by the way. That date: December 7.
The task force demands that the U.S. government does not make this December 7 “a date which will live in infamy” for press freedom.
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force early this year to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. It is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for attacks on press freedom in America. Reach out to the task force by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.