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18 • AUGUST 2018


Journalist Seeks Asylum

Soto, son detained, in fear of death


ournalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto and his 24-year-old son, Oscar, have been behind bars in an El Paso detention center for several months at the time of this writing. A judge has announced that there will be a hearing on Aug. 1 to decide if their First Amendment rights are being violated. In December, Emilio’s asylum case made it to court, after a decade of waiting. The judge ruled against him, to his desolation. He and his son were being driven in

a van toward the Mexican border when his lawyer, Eduardo Beckett, managed to arrange for a stay of their removal order at the last minute. They have since been kept in cramped cells in El Paso for more than six months. It may sound a little exaggerated, but Emilio thinks he will be killed immediately if he returns. Reporters without Borders says Mexico is the most dangerous country for journalists, and six journalists have been killed so far this year.

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There were street demonstrations in El Paso to protest the verdict, and currently Emilio gets visits from friends once a week. But he’s deeply frustrated. Emilio is from Ascension, Chihuahua, who fled Mexico in 2008 after writing about a few robberies and extortions committed by Mexican soldiers. He was first threatened by a Mexican general and a colonel, then his home was invaded by soldiers looking for some evidence that would incriminate him. Then a friend came to him crying and saying she’d overheard soldiers at a party saying they were planning to kill him. He left with Oscar in the middle of the night and crossed the border into the United States at the Antelope Wells Port of Entry and requested asylum. It was the closest, safest place he could have gone to save the life of both. Emilio and Oscar spent a few months in a detention center in El Paso at the beginning. When Emilio was freed, he started talking about his experiences to various news sources, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and Mother Jones. He spoke to local people at house talks at private homes, too, one of which I was involved with in Deming. It’s hard to imagine anyone there at the meeting who didn’t respect his artlessness, ide-

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alism, sense of humor and passion for the issues. After talking to a lot of individuals and reporters, he finally decided that he’d had enough of reliving his terror. “I want peace!” he told me at his house near the New Mexico State University campus where I went to talk to him once. What he did for peace was to create a Mexican food truck to support him and his son for about nine years. While he in this humble job, he was given an award from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. — the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award in the name of all Mexican journalists. He has been offered the prestigious Knight Wallace fellowship at the University of Michigan, and he is supported in his quest for asylum by 20 professional press organizations and human rights groups. Another journalist who fled Mexico to the El Paso area is 26-yearold Martin Mendez Pineda, who wrote for “Novedades Acapulco,” in Acapulco, Guerrero. This young man with a sunny smile wrote letters to his immigration lawyer Carlos Spector in the spring of last year detailing the grueling conditions he endured in detention. What he reports so articulately is akin to torture. Mendez said he was put in chains around his body at times, which made him cry. For a while he was at the notorious Sierra Blanca detention center where there was a room for sick people so extremely cold that inmates wouldn’t tell anybody when they were sick. He was once driven from El Paso to Milan, New Mexico (near Grants) in a 26hour trip with no food or water. He said the guards drove around in circles just to make the trip longer and harder to bear. Human rights reports from El Paso document that immigrant detention center officials are con-


sciously making life as uncomfortable as possible for inmates so they’ll accept voluntary departure and go back to their home country. The people I’ve mentioned have suffered violence and terrifying threats, and are journalists, not drug dealers. They’re sometimes considered the pillars of democracy or the lungs of a free society. They’re people used to being treated with respect. With Mendez Pineda, their tough treatment worked. Partly because of health problems he went back to some unfamiliar state in Mexico to take an inconspicuous job for a while and hope he will be forgotten someday by the state police in Acapulco who beat him up. On Saturday, July 1 in Columbus, New Mexico, a demonstration that protested immigration rights abuses was thrown together in a couple of days. About 80 people from the region showed up, an impressive number of people for the time frame involved. There was a special spirit at this event because the issue of the separation of children from their parents was deeply felt. The extreme carelessness in the registration and documentation of the kids made them seem almost like cattle being herded. At the march, there were heartfelt, hand-written signs: “Give back our crying babies.” “People who cage kids are animals, not the immigrants.” “Now you’re pissed off, Grandma.” “Empathy, mercy, generosity.” The protesters stood for maybe half an hour lined up near the port of entry to Mexico. I don’t think I was imagining this; I felt there was a special resonance to the phrases yelled there. One long line of people can give a good, stiff shout. In the middle of this I talked a


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Desert Exposure - August 2018  
Desert Exposure - August 2018