Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto and his son Oscar have been released from ICE detention after being jailed for seven months. 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 in December, only weeks after he criticized U.S. asylum policy during a speech at the National Press Club. A federal judge has questioned whether the Trump administration’s detention of Emilio Gutiérrez Soto and his son Oscar violated his First Amendment rights. We speak with Emilio Gutiérrez Soto in El Paso, Texas, shortly after his release.
AMY GOODMAN: We go to Texas, where Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto and his son Oscar have been released from ICE detention after being jailed for seven months. Gutiérrez Soto 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 in December, only weeks after he criticized U.S. asylum policy during a speech at the National Press Club. The federal judge who ordered his release questioned whether the Trump administration’s detention of Emilio Gutiérrez Soto and his son Oscar violated his First Amendment rights.
Well, on Wednesday, I spoke with Emilio Gutiérrez Soto in El Paso, Texas, and began by asking him how it feels to be free.
EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] Well, thank you for this invitation. It’s a little weird, having been seven months and some days at the ICE concentration camp. We feel a bit unusual. The way of life in that concentration camp is extremely harsh. What the immigration authorities seek is to finish you off psychologically. And we’re trying to resume our lives in liberty, in semi-liberty, practically, because we continue to be supervised by the immigration authority—in this case, internal security through ICE.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you describe the conditions that you were held in? Were you held together with Oscar, your son?
EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] Yes, my son and I, since we entered the concentration camp, we were always together in the same facilities.
The conditions in that place are truly denigrating. Day after day, we need to deal with or confront security of officers who are hired by a private company and who lack the basic ethical concepts when it comes to respecting human rights. We have had to confront a situation where there is some presumed food, which was really practically garbage, in addition to being enclosed where the barracks within have sanitary services and the shower, or toilet and shower, which causes constant contamination when it comes to internal development or any thought of pursuing intellectual development or of any sort of mental reflection in these places. These are really places in which there is an effort to totally destroy those who have the misfortune of reaching those places, destroying them both psychologically and physically.
AMY GOODMAN: Emilio, can you talk about why you were jailed in December? You had just been honored in Washington, D.C. In fact, I want to turn to your speech in October at the National Press Club as you accepted the National Press Club’s John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award on behalf of Mexico’s journalists. This is what you said then.
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, Emilio, that is you, Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, receiving an honor from the National Press Club in October. You were then detained in December. Do you believe there was a connection between the two events?
EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] I think so. It’s been quite clear that after receiving a recognition of that nature and of that importance, we had a visit, a contact, supervisory contact visit from ICE, and immediately they put the handcuffs on us, took our photographs and practically took us a few meters from the international border, the argument being that we were being deported, when there was already a motion before the court of appeals in order to stop such a deportation and so that we could continue our proceeding in liberty. What was attempted on that occasion was, once again, to cut short or to cut off my freedom of expression, a freedom which I have continued to exercise in Mexico and in the United States.
I believe that the work of journalists is to speak the truth, to act with the truth, and especially to cast light on the truth for those who listen to us on the radio, those who read us, those who see us or watch us on television. We journalists have a major commitment all around the world to do the best we can, carrying out our job honestly.
I think that it was one more reprisal on the part of ICE. After having continued in an asylum request process for 10 years, ours has been the longest, most drawn-out, most tedious asylum process, and, in particular, the one where we have put forward the most evidence before the immigration judge that we did not come to the United States looking for a green card. We came to save our lives, the lives which, for the Mexican state, turned out to not be important.
So important has the work of journalists been in Mexico, for the Mexican authorities, that we have more than 125 journalists who have been assassinated in the last 10 years, and in respect of whom there is total impunity, both in my home state of Chihuahua, as well as throughout the country. I feel that it was a major reprisal by the United States government on speaking out and demanding that international law in relation to political asylum be respected. These are laws that the United States has proclaimed and said should be accepted in other countries, but cannot be accepted as a moral claim or protest in this country, the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Emilio, you have been detained during this historic period of the Trump administration imposing what he calls the “zero tolerance” policy, where thousands of children were taken from their parents at the border. Still hundreds of them, if not over a thousand, have not been returned to them. Parents either deported or sent to 17 different states. We don’t know how many states children were sent to. You were watching this from your own detention. Were parents and children coming into the detention facility, the jail, you were in? And what were your thoughts, as a journalist and as a human being, watching all of this unfold from behind bars?
EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] Well, it’s something that I feel extremely sensitive about. Ten years ago, my son and I came into this country. And the first I found myself before an immigration officer, when they asked us what did we have with us, and I said we had fear.
After having been in a freezer room all day long, under conditions of below freezing, my son and I were transferred to a prison in Canutillo, and I was transferred to the prison in El Paso, Texas. We were separated, my son and I—my son, at the time, an adolescent. Today, when my son and I were locked up all this time, I have been able to see how my son survived the pain of seeing how his father was separated, the only moral support that he had in his incipient life.
We have now, once again, shared the intense pain that affects thousands of families that have been separated by a stupid policy, a criminal policy, that is being used against families. All they are seeking is just a grain of justice, the justice that is denied in our countries because of the predatory policies that begin in this country. It is totally—it’s a total aberration that the United States, a Christian country, that its authorities have no idea whatsoever of what Christianity is, of what it means to love your fellow human beings. The separation of families is an aberration. We, and my son, we experienced that wrenching experience during a 7-month period in 2008.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Emilio, now you are free, and you have been offered a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan. Are you able to go to Michigan from Texas? Will you be able to go to school? And is your son going with you?
EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] We are hoping that the immigration authorities—well, my son and myself, we are a family, and we have every intention to get to Michigan. We hope that, in coming days, the immigration authorities, particularly ICE, will return to us our Social Security cards and the other documents that they confiscated from us, that they did not give us a week ago. And we hope that, with that, we’ll be able to travel to Michigan and take advantage of this life opportunity and take advantage of this educational opportunity and, if possible, become fully engaged once again in U.S. society.
AMY GOODMAN: You were also in detention through the historic election of AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who will be the next president of Mexico. Soon after he was elected, the head of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen; the secretary of state, Pompeo; the senior adviser to Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, all went down to meet with the president-elect, with AMLO. Can you talk about his election and also what you see will happen and what this means for U.S.-Mexico relations?
EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] Well, look, Mexico, through Andrés Manuel—well, I have followed his, AMLO’s, political history, and I have felt closely identified with him in terms of the social policies that he has proposed. I believe that Mexico is going to draw a clear line vis-à-vis what Trump wants and what we need to do with Mexico. Mexico, in recent years, has practically been supervised and under the yoke of the United States. I think that’s going to change. Even though Trump has had some ideas in those approaches to López Obrador, I feel that López Obrador, because of the social support that he has had through the ballot box, is going to be obligated to follow through with the country in respect of things which have been denied to us. I’m speaking specifically of social justice.
There is a tremendous debt in terms of security. There is a huge debt in terms of health, education. And I think we’re going to begin there—and, among other very important things, our energy resources, which have been practically given away to countries like the United States and Canada through the North American Free Trade Agreement. We Mexicans need to reclaim our oil, our electricity, our hydrological resources, and especially our mining, mining which has practically been turned over totally to Canadian interests. We need to negotiate that. And I think that AMLO, López Obrador, has set those goals clearly, and he needs to follow through on them, because he has offered that.
AMY GOODMAN: The number of journalists who have been killed in Mexico since you were detained, I think the number now is eight journalists gunned down, who faced the fate that you were afraid of if you were deported to Mexico. Can you comment on the level of violence in Mexico and what you think needs to happen to address this?
EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] The violence in Mexico was brought about by a drunk president, Felipe Calderón, and then there was a corrupt president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who has presided over further violence. They have not had the intention of offering any justice whatsoever. Impunity is what has accompanied journalists throughout this time.
We were about to be deported. And with that, it’s practically turning us over to those who were looking for me to kill me, which is the Mexican Army. The Mexican Consulate in El Paso is an agency that is totally at the service of ICE. It does not protect the interests of Mexicans at all. The consul takes great pleasure in being friends with William Joyce, who’s the field director of ICE. We Mexicans continue being aliens for those who are in charge of the consulate. And the consulate obviously works with the immigration services of Mexico and the customs services of Mexico, which are mostly in the hands of military officers. We were about to be put in the hands of our executioners, with the nod of the consulate. This is something which caused me, personally, great fear, because I was practically—the life of my son was practically being put in the hands of the Mexican Army, a life which has nothing to do with the work that I have done over many years in Mexico in my work as a journalist.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Emilio, what message do you have for people outside of detention centers? What should we understand about what’s going on in the detention centers, what you call the concentration camps of the United States?
EMILIO GUTIÉRREZ SOTO: [translated] I believe that we need to become more aware and to implement Christian values above all else, which have been at the foundation of the laws, regulations and conduct of this nation. We have such a moral commitment, on our part, particularly my son and myself, to raise awareness and foster greater solidarity among human beings as a way of strengthening our peoples, our education and our social conduct. We have a lot of work to do still, with churches, with students, with all of society in general. We have that commitment, and we intend to do so with whoever wishes to listen to this voice that speaks out as a form of free expression.
AMY GOODMAN: Award-winning Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto. He’s just been released from ICE detention with his son, after being jailed for seven months, released on court order. He’s been awarded a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and plans to move to Ann Arbor next month with his son. He can only go if ICE returns his documents.
When we come back, we go to North Dakota, where the body of Native American mother of five, Olivia Lone Bear, has been found in the bottom of a lake near her home after a 9-month search.