Mexican journalist arrested in U.S. in 2017 is eligible for asylum

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A reporter from Mexico who fled the country after exposing corruption in its military has been granted eligibility for U.S. asylum, ending a years-long effort by the U.S. government to deport him, the National Press Club said Thursday.

Journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto received notice this week that the Board of Immigration Appeals has ruled him eligible for asylum, 15 years after he crossed into the United States seeking protection, the organization said.

The National Press Club launched a campaign to help Gutiérrez Soto in 2017, when he was taken into custody by U.S. immigration authorities two months after traveling to Washington to accept an award on behalf of journalists in Mexico.

An immigration judge in El Paso ordered Gutiérrez Soto deported in July 2017, saying he did not believe the reporter faced death threats and the risk of harm if deported. Gutiérrez Soto appealed and spent nine months in U.S. immigration detention while a group of law students at Rutgers University worked to win his release.

The same judge denied Gutiérrez Soto’s claims again in 2019, but he was able to remain in the United States while the Board of Immigration Appeals reviewed his case.

In a Sept. 5 letter to Gutiérrez Soto’s attorney, a three-judge panel from the Bureau called the immigration judge’s decisions “clearly erroneous.”

The judges cited Gutiérrez Soto’s “journalistic work that was critical of the military,” and said he “has a well-founded fear of persecution in Mexico.” U.S. State Department officials also provided letters of support for Gutiérrez Soto and attested to the dangers he faced.

Gutiérrez Soto, now 60, was working as a reporter in the town of Ascensión in northern Mexico’s Chihuahua state in 2008 when he faced threats after reporting local residents were being robbed and extorted by Mexican military officials.

The town, located along a major Mexican highway west of Ciudad Juárez, has long been a hub for drug trafficking and cartel activity.

Gutiérrez Soto fled across the border into Texas with his then-teenage son soon after their home was ransacked by soldiers and he was told by a confidential source that his name appeared on a hit list of military targets.

Corruption in the ranks of Mexican security forces, including the military, has long been a threat to reporters who take grave personal risks to uncover corruption and abuse. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Mexico as one of the most dangerous places for reporters in the world outside a war zone. More than 150 reporters in Mexico have been killed over the past three decades, according to the organization.

Gutiérrez Soto, who resides in Michigan, thanked the National Press Club and other press freedom groups who worked to win his release and support his asylum case.

“I hope that my case will shine a light on the need to protect those journalists in Mexico and around the world who are working and risking their lives to tell the truth,” he said in a statement.

The ruling from the Board of Immigration Appeals directed immigration officials to finalize background checks for Gutiérrez Soto and processing steps to complete his asylum case.

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