Unlike refugees from post-Soviet states, Mexican asylum seekers are not given the privilege of a low burden of proof or expedited process. Carlos Spector, Gutiérrez Soto’s attorney and the lawyer who won the first ever Mexican-U.S. asylum case in the 1990s, says that in his experience “the problem has not been policy, it has been procedural.” Mexicans who cross the border and immediately petition for asylum find their cases first mediated by ICE—not immigration judges. They are typically detained for significant periods, and find their hearings delayed seemingly ad infinitum.
Conversely, while Mexicans who enter the U.S. on, say, a tourist visa and later apply for asylum do not deal with ICE first, they still face other, difficult roadblocks. Legally, all asylum seekers from “contiguous territories” to the U.S. must have their cases referred to the Quality Assurance Unit, where cases can be delayed for years. Such procedure only applies to individuals from Mexico or Canada—and, as a matter of course, the vast majority of cases are Mexican.
The close nature of U.S./Mexico relations naturally figures prominently for policymakers and judges—as does concern over a relentless flood of asylum seekers streaming in from Mexico, in addition to concerns about illegal immigration. It is politically tricky to portray Mexico as a repressive regime, though government corruption is staggering, and it has been widely documented that Mexican military and law enforcement agents often collude with drug trafficking syndicates.
Carlos Lauria, senior coordinator for the Americas at the Committee to Project Journalists explains that, in Mexico, “impunity is the norm”, and in recent years, it has become “the most dangerous country in the Americas to work as a journalist.” Lauria’s organization has documented a pattern of journalists being verbally and physically harassed, intimidated and detained by the Mexican military.
On August 8, 2009, a group of journalists reporting on beatings of young people by soldiers were targeted and assaulted by members of the military in the town of Jesus Maria, in the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa. Since 2000 alone, twenty-four journalists have been murdered in Mexico, ten of these deaths clearly linked as acts of retribution. In Russia, a country from which asylum seekers are protected by the Lautenberg Amendment, that figure is sixteen.
Emilio Gutiérrez Soto says he was fortunate—he received a “recommendation” to leave Mexico before it was too late. Others, like his friend Armando Rodriguez of El Diario del Juarez, who was murdered in November, have not been so lucky. “Yo soy un ejemplo vivo,” Emilio said—a living example of what Mexican journalists are enduring to report the truth.
If you would like to help Emilio and his son, readers can send donations. Make checks out to Molly Molloy with the note: DONATION FOR EMILIO GUTIERREZ in the “for” line on the check. All of the money will be delivered directly to Emilio.
Donations may be sent to:
c/o New Mexico State University Library
PO Box 30006 Dept 3475
Las Cruces, NM 88003