The U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals has agreed to reconsider National Press Club Press Freedom award-winner Emilio Gutierrez’s asylum petition following a campaign by club members and allied professional journalism organizations to prevent the Mexican reporter from being deported to his home country, where he is under a death threat.
The NPC and its nonprofit Journalism Institute received word of the BIA decision this week; nonetheless, Gutierrez and his son, Oscar, remain in an El Paso immigration detention facility. They have been confined since Dec. 7, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials took them into custody after an ICE attempt to deport the two men was halted by an order of the BIA.
“We are delighted to hear that Emilio’s case will be reconsidered,” said National Press Club President Jeff Ballou. “But we must ask why one of our 2017 Press Freedom award winners remains behind bars when an arm of the Justice Department has determined that his case deserves to be adjudicated.
“Emilio and his son are guilty of no crime and it is costing U.S. taxpayers more than $250 a day to keep these two men confined,” Ballou added. “We ask William Joyce, the acting field director of the ICE El Paso office, to do the right thing and release Emilio and Oscar to the community where they have lived peacefully and lawfully for many years as they await an asylum ruling.”
Gutierrez fled Mexico in 2008 with his then-15-year-old son and sought asylum in the U.S. after a confidential source informed him his reporting on official corruption had landed him on a “hit list.” Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists; at least a dozen have been murdered there in 2017 alone.
In July, nearly a decade after Gutierrez first applied for asylum, an El Paso immigration judge, Robert Hough, denied his request, arguing that Mexican officials could protect him and questioning his journalistic credentials. In October, Gutierrez appeared before a packed National Press Club ballroom to accept the John Aubuchon Press Freedom award on behalf of Mexico’s journalists. On Dec. 7, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials attempted to take Gutierrez and his son back across the border, despite the fact that Hough’s decision was on appeal and the BIA had ordered a stay of deportation.
On Dec. 21, National Press Club Executive Director Bill McCarren visited Gutierrez in the immigration detention center in El Paso, accompanied by local congressman Beto O’Rourke. They pleaded for a humanitarian Christmas release of Gutierrez and his son while the case is being adjudicated. But ICE officials insisted the two are “flight risks” and that the Bureau of Immigration Appeals was about to deny Gutierrez’s request for a review of his case. The next day, the BIA granted that request.
ICE’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, opposed the review in a brief that focused not on the issue of reporter safety, but the legalistic question of whether Gutierrez’s request for review was filed in a timely fashion. Ironically, the DHS filed its brief late.
“It turns out that ICE was wrong about the BIA,” said NPC Journalism Institute President Barbara Cochran. “We think ICE is wrong about Emilio and Oscar too. Why not save U.S. taxpayers money by letting them out of jail while their case is adjudicated? As a journalist, Emilio called out criminals; he doesn’t deserve to be treated like one.”
Nearly two dozen journalism organizations are supporting the National Press Club’s call for justice for Gutierrez, as are the editorial boards of The Washington Post and the Houston Chronicle. An online #FreeEmilio petition at change.org has attracted more than 22,000 signatures.