ICE agents detained and handcuffed Emilio Gutiérrez Soto yesterday and began taking him and his 24-year-old son to the US border with Mexico. Only an urgent stay of removal granted by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which handles asylum cases, prevented his deportation.
However, ICE refused to release Gutiérrez and his son and instead, at 1:30 a.m. this morning, took them to the Sierra Blanca detention centre, 1.5 hours away from El Paso, Texas, where their lawyer is based.
“Pending a final decision by the BIA, we call on the U.S. authorities to grant Emilio Gutiérrez Soto an immediate conditional release,” said Margaux Ewen, the head of RSF’s North America bureau.
Emmanuel Colombié of RSF’s Latin America bureau added: “Emilio should be granted asylum. A return to Mexico, which is structurally violent and where journalists are regularly targeted, is out of the question for him.”
Gutiérrez does not have good memories of the Texan border town of El Paso. After fleeing across the border into the United States in June 2008, he spent seven months in an immigration detention centre there until he was finally released in January 2009 pending the outcome of his asylum application.
He finally obtained an asylum hearing in 2016, after an eight-year wait. The initial conclusions of that hearing are still unknown.
A reporter for the El Diario newspaper in Ascensión, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, Gutiérrez fled across the border after receiving death threats believed to have come from military personnel. A month before his departure, around 50 soldiers carried out a night-time raid on his home that was completely illegal.
With at least 11 journalists murdered in 2017, Mexico is now the world’s second deadliest country for the media, after Syria.
During a visit to Mexico from November 27 to December 4 in which RSF was closely involved, the UN and OAS special rapporteurs for freedom of expression, David Kaye and Edison Lanza, expressed deep concern about this level of violence and urged the Mexican authorities to “redouble efforts” to protect journalists.
The United States is ranked 43rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, two places lower than in 2016. Mexico is ranked 147th.