Wednesday evening the International House Ann Arbor (IHAA) hosted “Asylum Journey: 10 Years in the Immigration System,” featuring Knight-Wallace Fellow Emilio Gutiérrez Soto and his son, Oscar Gutiérrez Soto, who spoke on their experiences immigrating to the United States from Mexico. The event was co-sponsored by the University of Michigan Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice and Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR).
Gutiérrez Soto, speaking through a translator, recounted his experience facing persecution by the government as a journalist in Mexico. After facing surveillance and the destruction of his home by the military in Mexico, he entered the United States with his son in 2008. Since immigrating, the Gutiérrez Sotos have been detained in ICE facilities twice, most recently for eight months in 2017. His application for asylum was recently denied, and his attorney filed an appeal to the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals.
“I don’t understand why the American government has spent so many economic resources on our case,” Gutiérrez Soto said. “ICE treated us at a criminal level even though none of us committed a crime in the United States or Mexico.”
IHAA Executive Director Bruce Martin explained the difference between learning about immigration issues in the classroom verses engaging with the people experiencing discrimination. He emphasized the significance of giving the Gutiérrez Soto a platform to personally share their experiences.
“They have a story, and we’re all about stories,” Martin said. “People have a right to their own voice, and their own story. Emilio has his own voice.”
LSA sophomore Alexa Bates heard about the event through her pre-law fraternity, Kappa Alpha Pi. After the event, Bates told The Daily Martin’s emphasis on the importance of hearing about experiences first-hand, which cannot necessarily occur in the classroom.
“You just kind of hear about the issue as a whole and not the necessary personal experiences that people go through,” Bates said.
Now a Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan, Gutiérrez Soto expressed pride in his career as a journalist, despite how government retaliation impacted his life with his son.
“Journalism is a passion,” Gutiérrez Soto said. “It’s a pride to be a journalist, and with our work we make people conscious.”
However, Gutierréz Soto said his passion put him and his son’s lives in danger. If he returns to Mexico, he will continue to face military threats. Gutierréz Soto said in America, he was safer but his situation was not much better.
After entering the country, Gutiérrez Soto said he suffered mistreatment from ICE officials.
“They began to treat us like criminals,” Gutiérrez Soto said. “They mistreated our bodies as if we were a weapon of mass destruction.”
Gutiérrez Soto also expressed his frustration with the judicial system, which has processed his case for over ten years. The judge on his case denied his request to move his case to Michigan.
“I’m embarrassed for a judge who is a public servant,” Gutiérrez Soto said. “We will not be subjected to a judge who does not care about the lives of others.”
When asked about the difference in treatment of immigrants between the Obama and Trump administrations, Gutiérrez Soto explained the persecution has been constant.
“I want to tell you that there hasn’t been a policy change with immigration,” Gutiérrez Soto said. “The current president just has been louder,”
Gutiérrez Soto remains hopeful about his prospects of attaining asylum. When an attendee asked whether or not Gutiérrez Soto would have to return to Mexico, he said no.
“I think that we’re going to find justice,” Gutiérrez Soto said.
After the event, organizers directed attendees to tables in the back of the room to sign letters to U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., who recently co-wrote a letter to ICE Acting Director Ronaldo Vitiello in support of Gutiérrez Soto and his son. Additionally, Debbie Dingell introduced House Resolution 1751 on March 13, seeking permanent residency for the Gutierrez Sotos.