National Press Club and 19 press organizations join legal effort to free award-winning journalist from detention

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April 9, 2018 By Kathy Kiely

The National Press Club, joined by 19 professional journalism organizations, on Monday asked a federal court to order the release of award-winning journalist Emilio Gutiérrez-Soto and his son, Oscar, from an El Paso detention center where Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have detained them for more than four months.

There is no basis, in law or basic human decency, for the treatment that Emilio and Oscar Gutiérrez-Soto have received at the hands of ICE,” the Club said in a friend-of-the-court brief filed before the U.S. district court in the Western District of Texas. “Emilio is an internationally acclaimed First Amendment hero, not a criminal. He and his son should be freed from jail immediately.”

The brief was authored by a team of First Amendment lawyers working pro bono for the Club: Chuck Tobin and Steven Zansberg of Ballard Spahr and Mark Flores of Littler Mendelson. Tobin is a member of the National Press Club; Zansberg and Flores are former television broadcasters.

It supports a writ of habeas corpus filed last month by law professor Penny Venetis and her students at the Rutgers University human rights law clinic, along with Eduardo Beckett, an El Paso immigration lawyer representing the Gutiérrezes.

“The fact that so many attorneys have been willing to volunteer their time to work on this case underscores its importance as a matter of press freedom and human rights,” said Andrea Edney, president of the National Press Club. “So does the number of distinguished professional journalism organizations that are supporting our brief. Journalists in the United States and around the world are proud to stand behind the work of our brave colleague, Emilio.”

The Press Club honored Gutiérrez at its Fourth Estate Dinner in October, asking him to represent his colleagues when the Club presented the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award to Mexico’s endangered press corps. Gutiérrez fled the country in 2008 after his own reporting on official corruption made him the target of harassment and death threats.

Two months after delivering a speech in the ballroom of the Press Club, Gutiérrez was in shackles. On Dec. 7, during a routine check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he and his son were informed they would be deported immediately. Only an emergency stay by the Board of Immigration Appeals, issued while the Gutiérrezes were being driven toward the border, prevented them from being returned to the country where the elder Gutiérrez—like so many journalists in Mexico—has been threatened with death. The Press Club brief cites more than 20 reports, including assessments by the United Nations and the U.S. State Department, to document the dangers facing journalists who challenge Mexico’s drug cartels and corrupt government officials who support them.

The Board of Immigration Appeals is reviewing the Gutiérrezes’ request for asylum, a request originally made when they entered the United States nearly 10 years ago. But that process could take months. Meanwhile, despite the pleas of the Press Club and other journalism organizations, ICE refuses to release them. Their Las Cruces, New Mexico home has been burglarized while they have been in jail.

“There is no reason whatsoever for this brave father and son to be detained indefinitely, as they pose no danger to society or of any flight risk,” the Press Club writes in the brief filed today. “The Gutiérrez-Sotos have fully complied with all of ICE’s demands and requests for the past ten years, and they have formed strong community ties – with expressions of support from multiple local and national organizations, members of Congress, major newspapers, and the Bishop of El Paso, Texas, who has labeled this country’s treatment of the Gutiérrez-Sotos’ ‘morally wrong.’”

On the day after the Rutgers Human Rights Law Clinic filed a writ of habeas corpus for the Gutiérrezes’ release, federal Judge David C. Guaderrama gave the government until Friday to show why they should continue to be jailed (at a cost to the taxpayers, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s own estimates, of $127 a day for each of the two).

The government missed the deadline.

In a motion filed Thursday, Justice Department attorneys asked for an extension until April 27 in order to give Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials more time to “gather documents” for the case.

“The same Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department that kept the Gutiérrezes waiting nearly a decade for any decision on their asylum case now wants them to wait a few more weeks in jail,” said Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club’s non-profit Journalism Institute. “That is why we are supporting a writ of habeas corpus to enforce a right against unjust detention that goes back to the Magna Carta. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Nearly 100,000 people have signed a #FreeEmilio petition posted by the Press Club at Change.org.

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