Mexican Journalist Seeks Asylum in U.S.
LAS CRUCES — Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto says he has no backup plan if his request for political asylum in the U.S. is rejected when he goes before an immigration judge in El Paso in late January.
His El Paso lawyer, Carlos Spector, says one thing is clear: No place in Mexico is safe for Gutierrez Soto since he was threatened by Mexican soldiers in two harrowing encounters in 2005 and again in 2008 for several articles he wrote.
“He’d be a dead man within a couple of months,” Spector said, “and they’d probably make it look like an accident.”
Gutierrez Soto, a former reporter for the Ciudad Juárez-based newspaper El Diario de Juárez, and his then-14-year-old son fled from their home in Ascension, a farming community southwest of Columbus, on June 16, 2008. With a few personal effects and some changes of clothing, Gutierrez Soto drove to the Antelope Wells port of entry in the state’s Boot Heel, gambling that no Mexican soldiers would be present on the northbound approach, and declared his intent to seek asylum.
Father and son were promptly separated and sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers in the El Paso area. Gutierrez Soto was held for eight months before his release in January 2009. His son had been released after about two months and was living with family friends in Las Cruces, where Gutierrez Soto joined him.
These days, Gutierrez Soto supports himself by doing odd jobs around Las Cruces, aided by a small network of sympathizers who provide day jobs gardening, painting or cooking. His son is struggling to adapt while attending high school, and Gutierrez Soto receives tutoring in English.
“There are two lives at stake,” Gutierrez Soto said in a recent interview from a simple apartment in Las Cruces. (He asked that the exact location not be disclosed for his safety). “We’re only asking for the opportunity to live.”
Winning an asylum case is an uphill battle. Last fiscal year, among the 2,320 cases in which Mexican applicants applied proactively for asylum, meaning they did so before they were picked up and targeted for deportation, only 115, or less than one in 20, won approvals.
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