National Press Club: Homeland Security wants court to ignore journalism groups, evidence in asylum case

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April 12, 2018 By Kathy Kiely kkiely@press.org

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants the Board of Immigration Appeals to dismiss 500 pages of evidence presented by The National Press Club and 16 other professional journalism organizations in the asylum case of Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, an award-winning Mexican journalist.

In a brief filed before the board — which earlier accepted the Press Club petition to allow it and the other journalism groups to enter the Gutiérrez case as "friends of the court" — DHS argues that the board should throw out extensive documentation the Club provided of Gutiérrez's work as an investigative reporter. That work made him the subject of death threats in this country, prompting him and his then-teenage son to seek asylum in the United States in 2008.

"The board… cannot consider new evidence presented for the first time on appeal," the department writes in its brief.

For the Press Club and its lawyers, the government's effort to suppress proof of Gutiérrez's journalism bona fides — offered because an immigration judge questioned them — comes as a shock.

"It's appalling that an agency of the U.S. government would put the lives of two men at risk on what amounts to a legal technicality," said National Press Club President Andrea Edney. "There should be no statute of limitation on the truth."

Other arguments DHS offers in favor of rejecting the Gutiérrezes' asylum appeal:

  • An El Paso immigration judge's July decision against them was "not clearly erroneous;"
  • Gutiérrez was "never physically hurt" while in Mexico and "threats alone are ordinarily insufficient to constitute persecution," and
  • "There is nothing on the record to suggest that the government of Mexico is unable or unwilling to protect" the two men.

"The disingenuousness of these arguments is truly breathtaking," said Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club's nonprofit Journalism Institute. "Countless well-respected organizations, including the U.S. Department of State, have documented the dangers facing journalists in Mexico. A recent United Nations report concluded that government officials there not only have been unable to protect reporters but are sometimes complicit in targeting them. When people's lives are at stake, we should be about getting it right."

Gutiérrez and his then-15-year-old son, Oscar, requested asylum in the United States nearly 10 years ago after the Mexican reporter's stories on official corruption made him the target of harassment and death threats. U.S. authorities initially found the two to have "credible fear" of returning and allowed them to stay while their case was investigated. It languished for nearly a decade until, last summer, an El Paso immigration judge denied their asylum request. While that case was on appeal, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Dec. 7 attempted to deport the pair, a move that was thwarted by an emergency stay from the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Since then, Immigration and Customs Enforcement have held the pair in detention. The Press Club and other journalism organizations are supporting a writ of habeas corpus to free the two men.

In October — two months before he was jailed — Gutiérrez appeared at the National Press Club to accept the John Aubuchon Press Freedom award on behalf of Mexico's journalists.

A #FreeEmilio petition posted by the Press Club at Change.org has garnered nearly 100,000 signatures. The Washington Post, along with The Denver Post and the Houston Chronicle have editorialized for the Gutierrezes release, and Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso has called the government's treatment of the two men "morally wrong."

Founded in Washington, D.C. in 1908, the National Press Club represents 3,000 journalists and communicators worldwide. Its nonprofit Journalism Institute provides professional development programs and works to advance the cause of free speech in the United States and abroad.

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