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Jailhouse Interview: Denied Asylum, Mexican Reporter Emilio Gutiérrez Faces Death If ICE Deports Him

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We look at the danger facing journalists in Mexico and how the U.S. has responded to one of them. This week, Mexican journalist Gumaro Pérez Aguinaldo was assassinated in the southern state of Veracruz, becoming at least the 12th journalist to be killed in Mexico so far this year. Reporters Without Borders says the killing puts Mexico alongside Syria as the most murderous country for journalists. In a broadcast exclusive jailhouse interview, we speak by phone with another Mexican journalist: Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, who is fighting his deportation to Mexico as he is being held in a U.S. detention center in El Paso, Texas. Gutiérrez first sought asylum in the United States in 2008 after receiving death threats for reporting on alleged corruption in the Mexican military. He was detained then and eventually released while his asylum appeal was pending. The Trump administration denied asylum to the award-winning reporter last week. We also speak with his lawyer, Eduardo Beckett.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the danger facing journalists in Mexico and how the U.S. has responded to one of them. This week, Mexican journalist Gumaro Pérez Aguinaldo was assassinated in the southern state of Veracruz, becoming at least the 12th journalist to be killed in Mexico so far this year. He was attending a Christmas pageant at his son’s school in the city of Acayucan, when armed men burst into the classroom and murdered him in front of a room filled with schoolchildren. Pérez covered police for multiple outlets, including the news site he founded, La Voz del Sur, or The Voice of the South. He is at least the third journalist murdered in the city of Acayucan in recent months. His death marked the 12th murder of a media worker in Mexico in 2017, according to the press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders. The killing puts Mexico alongside Syria as the most murderous country for journalists, according to RSF.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, in a broadcast exclusive today, we conducted a jailhouse interview by phone with another Mexican journalist: Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, who is fighting his deportation to Mexico as he’s being held in a U.S. detention center in El Paso, Texas. Gutiérrez first sought asylum in the United States in 2008 after receiving death threats for reporting on alleged corruption in the Mexican military. He was detained then, eventually released while his asylum appeal was pending. Well, last week, his asylum appeal was denied. He now faces deportation back to Mexico, one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Democracy Now!’s Juan González and I had a chance to speak with Gutiérrez directly in detention, where he is in jail in El Paso.

EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] Look, Juan, I wrote some articles where I described how the military acting in the northwest of Chihuahua, specifically in the municipality of Ascensión, Chihuahua, and particularly the population of Palomas, which is by the border with the state of New Mexico. This caused disgust at the Ministry of Defense, which sent the head of the 5th Military Zone in Chihuahua, General García Vega, to threaten me, saying I had already written three articles noting corruption and assaults against the population by members of the military. And he sentenced me. He said, “You’ve written three articles, and there’s not going to be a fourth one.” And, of course, there was a fourth article. And I filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission and also with the Office of the Attorney General for the state. As a result, for a time after those threats, they sought some sort of reconciliation with me, but the terms never came about. In this state of affairs, I was somewhat fearful in the face of a serious warning by a general, a high-level commander from the Mexican Army.

Back in 2008, the Army forcibly entered my home, knocking down the main door, threatening us with their firearms. They threw me to the floor. And they said they were searching for weapons and drugs. They destroyed our home. And, of course, they found nothing, nothing at all. And once again, great fear has come, such that I had to stay up all night while my son was sleeping. I had to look out the window to see who might be coming by. And my sleep—well, I would catch up on my sleep at the office, while at the same time doing my work as a journalist. A month later, on May 5th, at night, after they broke into our house and had destroyed our house, we took more precautions.

And on June 16th, 2008, we decided to enter the United States seeking political asylum. First, we said that the military were keeping close surveillance over me and that a friend of mine told me that a relative of hers in the repeat response elite group told my friend—told her that there was a plan to kill me. Obviously, I had to quickly take what I needed from my home. I went to a friend of a home where my son was. There was a religious service going on there. And we went to a ranch on Saturday, July 14th. And on the 16th, we opted to cross into the United States at the border post of Berrendo into the state of New Mexico, where we placed ourselves at the disposal of U.S. immigration officials, seeking political asylum.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Was it your intention to move to the United States, or did you just feel that you had to as a result of the threats to your life?

EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] No. We did this with the intention of moving permanently, because when there is a threat by the military, it’s very serious. Plus, there were already antecedents in terms of how the military were acting, and, in some cases, people would not appear again.

AMY GOODMAN: Emilio, can you talk about what deportation would mean? First, describe where you are in the El Paso jail. And then, what would it mean if you were sent back to Mexico?

EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] Well, if we are deported, that obviously implies death. Why? Because ICE, under the Department of Homeland Security of the United States, by law, must give a report to the immigration authorities of Mexico and the consulate. And the immigration officials in Mexico have no credibility. It’s impossible to trust in them. To the contrary, many of those officials, many personnel at the consulate or immigration service, are caught up with organized crime. And organized crime is precisely the Mexican government. If the government didn’t give its consent for criminal groups to work with impunity, certainly the conditions would be different. But the government of Mexico facilitates the work of criminal groups who operate with total impunity. The government of Mexico, we all know, is the most corrupt government in the hemisphere and obviously enjoys no credibility.

Now, the conditions we find ourselves at this ICE jail in El Paso are truly denigrating. We have seen—my son and myself—most of the immigrants detained here are from Central and South America, the majority. We’re not so many Mexicans here at this jail. Now, given the extreme poverty, well, of course, that is experienced in Mexico, but even more so in Central and South America. For many of the persons detained, it seems that the conditions are adequate, are pleasant. But they are denigrating. The food is poor nutritionally. And it is not pleasant at all to eat the food here. Not at all. Plus, the rations, the portions are too small.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Emilio, the immigration authorities here in the United States are saying that you have no proof, no documentary proof, of your claims or that no witnesses have appeared to back up your claims. How do you respond to that?

EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] I believe that the immigration authorities are an institution based on lies. It would appear that I would need to enter the United States with bullet holes on the front and back of my body or mutilated, which is what the institutional criminal group—the Mexican government—generally does.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, speaking in an exclusive jailhouse broadcast interview from a U.S. detention center in El Paso, where he is fighting his deportation to Mexico, one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Gutiérrez first sought asylum in the United States in 2008 after receiving death threats for reporting on alleged corruption in the Mexican military. He was detained then and eventually released when his asylum appeal was pending. He lived free in the U.S. for nearly a decade. Last week, the Trump administration denied his asylum appeal.

Well, for more, we’re joined in El Paso, Texas, via Democracy Now! video stream by his lawyer, Eduardo Beckett.

Eduardo Beckett, could you tell us with the situation is now with your client, Emilio Gutiérrez?

EDUARDO BECKETT: Yes, good morning. It’s an honor to be here.

My client’s asylum claim was actually denied on July 19th of 2017. He filed an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals. The appeal was dismissed on a technicality. At that moment, he could be deported anytime, so we filed a stay, a stay removal, both with the original immigration judge, with a motion to reopen, a stay with ICE, and both of them were denied by the judge and denied by ICE. So we filed an emergency stay with the Board of Immigration Appeals and a motion to reopen. The stay removal by the Board of Immigration Appeals was granted, and his motion to reopen his asylum case is pending.

What we’re doing right now, we’re trying to get him released on humanitarian parole. And as my client has told you, you know, right now we’re—ICE is operating basically on steroids. And I would say that my client is a prototypical example of someone who should have been granted asylum. He’s a journalist. He has openly criticized the Mexican government for years and years, nonstop. His life is in great danger upon deportation. He has no criminal history. He entered legally, and yet ICE is treating him like a criminal. So this is the criminalization of asylum seekers. So that’s the situation right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Eduardo Beckett, explain the grounds on which he was denied his claim for political—his request for political asylum here. I mean, we just reported today in our headlines and in this segment about yet another Mexican journalist who was gunned down in Mexico. As you heard in this interview, Emilio Gutiérrez fears, of course, if he is deported, that that is what will happen to him: He’ll be assassinated. He’s being detained with his son. Can you talk about the denial under the Trump administration? And what is his recourse now?

EDUARDO BECKETT: Of course. So, the denial was basically like a 30-page document, where the judge makes an analysis of the conditions in Mexico. And as you stated, the eyewitnesses from Mexico did not show up to the court, did not want to cooperate. And I understand 100 percent, because they live in Mexico, so I believe that the witnesses were scared to come forward or to send an affidavit. Nevertheless, my client submitted many, many expert witness documents, corroborating evidence, overwhelming evidence, of the conditions of Mexico. And, you know, like you mentioned, 12 journalists have been executed—a couple days ago, one in Veracruz in front of his children at a Christmas party. When I told my client what happened, he was crying, and he was shaking, and he was saying that he felt bad, that he knows that it’s going to happen to him.

So, in this case, the judge got it wrong. So his recourse is to file a motion to reopen the case, and we’re going to, hopefully, get to redo his whole case again, because I think the judge got it wrong. And the message that the judge is sending is basically saying, “We don’t want to protect journalists, and we don’t think, you know, that you corroborated your asylum claim.” But the U.S. Supreme Court only requires a 10 percent chance that upon deportation to Mexico, that you will be tortured or executed or persecuted. The REAL ID Act of 2005 does require corroborating evidence, if it’s readily available and within reason. In this case, to force a witness to come forward, at the risk that that witness might be executed, is unreasonable. So those are the types of things that we’re going to be asking the Board of Immigration Appeals to examine and overrule the judge and hopefully give us a new—the opportunity to retry his asylum claim.

AMY GOODMAN: And the role of the local congressmember? Has he been visited by anyone locally in El Paso?

EDUARDO BECKETT: So, what we’re doing also, we’re doing a campaign to shed light. You know, under the Trump administration, as you mentioned, we feel the erosion of due process in an exaggerated rate. We’re asking our local congressman, we’re asking our clergy, we’re asking the community to support my client and to ask for his release. I did have a conversation with my congressman in Washington, D.C., yesterday, his staff. And we asked him to—

AMY GOODMAN: And he is who?

EDUARDO BECKETT: Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Beto O’Rourke.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

EDUARDO BECKETT: So, we had a meeting with him on the phone. I did not get to speak to him directly, but I—you know, through his staff. And we asked him to support us and to put pressure on ICE to get my client released. Like I said, no criminal history. He’s always complied with all the—with the law. And, you know, it’s sad that he’s being detained like a criminal. This is a guy that promotes democracy. This is a guy that we want here in the United States. And so, we’re reaching out not only to him, but to other senators and congressmen and anyone who wants to help. Journalists around the world have called us. So we have a lot of people that are supporting us. And that’s why we’re here today, to highlight this.

AMY GOODMAN: Eduardo Beckett, I want to thank you so much for being with us, lawyer for the detained journalist Emilio Gutiérrez. He’s detained in an immigration jail in El Paso, Texas. He applied for political asylum. He was just denied by the Trump administration. He is appealing that decision. He is in jail with his son. We will continue to follow this story. If you want to hear the whole interview with Emilio Gutiérrez that I did with Juan González, you can go to democracynow.org. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.

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