After a visit from Texas Democratic Congressmember Beto O’Rourke and a flurry of news reports, including on Democracy Now!, the Board of Immigration Appeals has reopened the asylum case of award-winning journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, vacating his deportation order and granting him a full stay of his removal order. This means Gutiérrez cannot be deported, at the moment, and that the BIA will now issue a new ruling. But Gutiérrez has still not been released. We play an excerpt from our exclusive jailhouse interview with Gutiérrez and speak with William McCarren, the executive director of the National Press Club, who visited Gutiérrez in detention and said Gutiérrez broke down crying several times, and Gutiérrez’s lawyer, Eduardo Beckett.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to an update on the case of Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez, who is fighting his deportation from a U.S. detention center in El Paso along with his son. Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, and Gutiérrez and his son first sought asylum in the United States in 2008, after receiving death threats for reporting on alleged corruption in the Mexican military. They were detained for seven months, eventually released to live in the United States while his asylum appeal was pending. They survived by operating a food truck in New Mexico until last July. But after nearly a decade, Gutiérrez’s asylum appeal was denied, and earlier this month he was again detained.
Well, this week, after a visit from Texas Democratic Congressmember Beto O’Rourke and a flurry of news reports, including here on Democracy Now!, the Board of Immigration Appeals reopened Gutiérrez’s asylum case and vacated his deportation order, granting him a full stay of his removal order. This means Gutiérrez Soto cannot be deported, at the moment, and that the BIA, the Bureau of Immigration Appeals, will now issue a new ruling. But Gutiérrez has still not been released. Neither has his son.
This is Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, speaking to us earlier this month in an exclusive jailhouse interview with Juan González and me, directly from his El Paso detention center, talking about what he fears will happen if he’s deported 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: So, that’s Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, speaking to us directly from a detention prison in Texas earlier this month. Since he received a full stay of deportation this week, his followers are calling for his release, arguing he poses no threat to security, is not a flight risk and faces health problems the longer he’s held.
For more, we’re going to go to El Paso first, by Democracy Now! video stream, to Gutiérrez’s lawyer, Ed Beckett.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Eduardo Beckett. Talk about what happened this week. What is the decision that was made that would stop the deportation of Emilio Gutiérrez, at least for now?
EDUARDO BECKETT: Good morning. A pleasure to be here.
So, this week, the Board of Immigration Appeals reinstated his appeal, vacated the deportation order. And basically what it means is that they’re going to review his case again. They’re going to allow us to file legal briefs. And so, he’s going to be able to present his case to the Board of Immigration Appeals, so they can either grant him the asylum, agree with the judge or remand or send back the case to the judge to redo it, if the court thinks that there’s irregularities or that the judge’s decision was erroneous. So, it’s very good news for him, but bad news that he’s detained. And he’s being treated like a criminal, in my opinion.
AMY GOODMAN: So, this is Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, speaking in October in Washington, D.C., as he accepted the National Press Club’s John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award on behalf of Mexico’s journalists. He spoke alongside a translator.
EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] The murder cases, the disappearances and the exiles is a constant suffering and source of pain for our families. Lady Impunity has not let go of our hand, while Lady Justice prostitutes herself in the company of the government to again kill the freedom of expression. Those who seek political asylum in countries like this, like the United States, we encounter the decisions of immigration authorities that barter away the international laws.
AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Emilio Gutiérrez receiving the Aubuchon National Press Freedom Award on behalf of Mexican journalists at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
So, for more, I want to bring into the conversation, from Washington, Bill McCarren, executive director of the National Press Club, which invited Emilio Gutiérrez to accept that award. McCarren went to El Paso earlier last week to visit Gutiérrez in detention. He also delivered to authorities boxes full of petitions that call for Gutiérrez to be released.
Bill McCarren, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you explain when you went to El Paso, your visit with both Emilio and Oscar, and then with ICE officials.
WILLIAM McCARREN: Sure. Hi, Amy. Thanks for having me.
So, we were able to go to El Paso, and, through the work of Eddie Beckett, get into detention to see Emilio and Oscar. They were brief meetings. I was accompanied by Congressman Beto O’Rourke, from the El Paso area, and two of his staff. It was an emotional meeting with Emilio, in particular. He was agitated. He broke down a couple of times. He complained of health problems, which you all have discussed earlier. And we think, by the way, the diet may contribute to high blood pressure. He said his arm was numb, this sort of thing. He wasn’t sleeping well. And I’m not a doctor, but, you know, he seemed to be having PTS and those kinds of symptoms. He’s depressed.
The authorities did not let us see Emilio and Oscar at the same time. Emilio had to exit the room, and then Oscar entered. Oscar seems healthy. He’s very concerned about his father, of course. But in every way, he presents almost like any college—early college-aged kid you’d meet, just a great kid. And it was an honor to see them, but it was upsetting to see them under those circumstances. And then we followed for a meeting with ICE officials, as you indicated.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how that meeting went. And did ICE officials tell you that you should be toning it down? And explain what they meant.
WILLIAM McCARREN: Sure. Well, I mean, as you mentioned, we were there to, among other things, present petitions. And we had, at that point, 18,000 signatures. I believe it’s close to 23,000 now. And we were able to submit those into his—into Emilio’s case file. So that was a very important action for us.
And we did not know we would be able to meet with ICE. So, during the meeting, there were five ICE officials, myself, the congressman and his staff, and Eduardo, Emilio’s attorney. And during the meeting, we were discussing the judge’s case, his ruling. And, you know, the judge found that Emilio didn’t present credible evidence, in his view, about his journalistic activities, and did not suggest that he would be—did not give adequate reason that he would be in danger if he returned to Mexico, both of which we object.
So, we were discussing this, and we were told by one of the ICE officials that we should tone it down. And I think, by that, he meant, you know, take a calmer approach to this, don’t question things as much. He said, “Let the process work.” Well, you know, my answer to him, immediately, was, we were not there to tone it down. We were there to raise the issue of Emilio’s case and make sure everyone knew his name, if possible, and make sure everybody knew the circumstances, that this was a journalist seeking asylum and who is not being granted asylum. And we know that the ICE officials knew that we would have a news conference at 1:00 that day. So this was a bit of a shot across the bow. Now, later, they chose, in the press, to deny that they had said we should tone it down, or suggested that wasn’t what they meant. But we were pretty clear what they meant.
AMY GOODMAN: Why is this case so important to you, Bill, as executive director of the National Press Club? And also, why is Emilio Gutiérrez and his son Oscar still being held in jail?
WILLIAM McCARREN: Well, on that last question, honestly, my answer is, I do not know. As Eduardo mentioned, they are—you know, they have no criminal record. They are not a threat to the community. The jail is—the facility is very crowded. We believe as many as 30 people were released to humanitarian parole the week prior. So, there are a lot of people that, you know, may need to be in that facility. We don’t think Emilio and Oscar are two of them. And we’re asking that they be released.
Why we gave Emilio the Aubuchon award and why we were interested in putting a spotlight on problems in Mexico related to journalism, in general, I would call your viewers’ attention to a recent report by the United Nations—it came out December 4th—in which David Kaye, who’s a very credible person, and some of his staff went through Mexico for a week, interviewed 250 journalists about the kinds of problems that are going on there. And just a few quick facts: We believe there have been 12 journalists this year killed in Mexico. None of those 12 cases have been solved. And some of those journalists who have been killed are in a protection program that’s operated by the Mexican government. And it’s that very program, cited by the judge, that he says will protect Emilio Gutiérrez if he’s returned to Mexico. We’re not buying that. We don’t think it’s an effective program. We’re very concerned about violence against journalists everywhere, but in Mexico.
And so, Emilio is a great case for us to highlight. It’s an unfortunate case, but it’s one we want to bring full attention to. And we’re the—the National Press Club is the world’s leading professional organization for journalists, so this is what we do. And we do it in Iran and Azerbaijan and other places, but I never thought we’d be having to fight a case like this here in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Eduardo Beckett, can you explain why, at this point, with the case going to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals, Emilio is still being held? He has not committed a crime, nor has his son.
EDUARDO BECKETT: Yes. And, Amy, I think that we’re seeing the criminalization of asylum seekers, where the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, is taking the position that if you come and enter legally, like Emilio and his son did through one of our land port of entries, and seek asylum, that you should be treated like a criminal. There is no good reason to hold him. He meets all the criteria to be released.
I think that—going back to the question that you asked about the media, I believe that, you know, with all due respect, that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a bipolar organization. On the one hand, to my face, they’d say, “We don’t care about the media. We don’t care if you go to the media.” On the other hand, privately, they say, “Tone it down.” And so, this is a bipolar organization that wants to treat legitimate asylum persons, like Emilio, like criminals.
And Congress has given them so much power. It’s kind of like if the police charges you with a crime, but you never get to see the judge, and only the police gets to decide when and how they’re going to release you. Same thing with ICE. Since he entered legally, the law, the Congress gave this power to ICE. Basically they decide if they wanted to release him. They can release him on his own recognizance, on an order of supervision. They can set a bond, a low bond. They can put alternative-to-detention programs. So they have a whole host of tools that they can use, but they’re choosing not to. And so, we’re shocked that, you know, Congress gave them so much unfettered discretion. And I think that’s a bigger issue, that I think Congress needs to fix this, because then it’s abuse of authority.
AMY GOODMAN: So they could release him today?
EDUARDO BECKETT: Exactly. They could release him right now, if they want to.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh. BIA stands for the Board of Immigration Appeals. Bill McCarren, also the fact that Emilio Gutiérrez is a journalist who was reporting on narcotrafficking, its relationship with the Mexican government. With President Trump’s professed concern about the drug war and narcotraffickers, you would think that journalists like Emilio are critical.
WILLIAM McCARREN: You would think so. There’s plenty of need for good journalism in Mexico, but—so Emilio’s voice and his outspoken approach to problems in Mexico, whether he’s here or in Mexico, is valuable and, you know, I think, should be encouraged. We do think it’s a dangerous place for him now, and we think, you know, he should not be returned. And we would think that the United States’ policy should be all about trying to protect him.
I wanted to point out, Amy, that The Washington Post, in a December 12th editorial, called for asylum for Emilio. So, when the judge is questioning whether or not Emilio is a journalist—well, we’re giving him an award, The Washington Post is calling for asylum for him—I really don’t think it’s a question about whether or not he’s a journalist and whether his voice is a valuable one.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us. Of course, we’ll continue to follow this case. And if you want to see, watch, listen to, read our full interview with Emilio Gutiérrez Soto in jail in El Paso, the interview that Juan González and I did, you can go to democracynow.org. Bill McCarren, thanks for being with us, executive director of the National Press Club. And, Eduardo Beckett, Emilio’s attorney, thanks so much for being with us.
When we come back, the Committee to Protect Journalists has come out with a report on imprisoned and detained journalists around the world. It’s chilling. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “El Hielo,” or “ICE”—Immigration and Customs Enforcement—by La Santa Cecilia, performing in our Democracy Now! studio. To see the interviews and the performances, you can go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.