Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, University of Michigan Knight-Wallace fellow, was ordered to return to Mexico after a United States immigration judge denied his application for asylum Feb. 28. On Thursday, Gutiérrez’s attorney filed an appeal to the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals on his behalf.
Gutiérrez is a journalist in the University’s eight-month fellowship program in which professional journalists advance their skills and address challenges in the journalism industry. Gutiérrez joined the 2018-2019 fellowship class as a press freedom fellow. As part of the fellowship, he is studying issues regarding the safety and freedom of journalists.
Gutiérrez sought asylum in the United States in 2008 after facing death threats for his reporting for local news outlet El Diario Del Noroeste on crimes committed by members of the military in Chihuahua, Mexico.
In 2017, a Texas judge denied him asylum and scheduled him for deportation. He and his son Oscar were detained in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Texas for nearly eight months. However, the Texas judge’s decision came under fire from various journalism organizations, halting his deportation. Gutiérrez Soto and his son were released from the detention facility in July 2018.
In the Feb. 28 decision, Judge Robert Hough stated Gutiérrez did not demonstrate experience of persecution during his time in Mexico nor did he show a fear of future persecution upon his return.
“The respondent failed to show that it is more likely than not that he would be subjected to torture upon his return to Mexico,” Hough wrote in his decision. “The record lacks evidence that the respondent wrote any articles that denounce the corruption in Mexico.”
Both Gutiérrez and his son, Oscar, were released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention in Texas in July. Journalism organizations as well as other Knight-Wallace fellows have demonstrated their support through amicus briefs and submitted statements to the U.S. State Department.
Lynette Clemetson, director of Wallace House, referenced the judge’s claim that Gutiérrez failed to illustrate potential endangerment if he were to return to Mexico, citing the murder of fellow journalists in the region.
“The judge’s ruling was incredibly frustrating,” Clemetson said. “Anyone with even the most minimal knowledge of the current situation in Mexico knows that this is absurd. At least eight journalists were murdered with impunity in Mexico last year because of their work. Two more journalists have been brutally murdered so far this year.”
Clemetson also emphasized the support both Gutiérrez and his son have within the community.
“Emilio and Oscar have a broad coalition of support, including many organizations like Wallace House and the Knight-Wallace Fellowship for Journalists, that care deeply about upholding freedom and safety of journalists,” Clemetson said. “We are determined to keep fighting for justice and all this case stands for. And we will provide a safe and supportive environment for Emilio and Oscar here in Ann Arbor for as long as we can.”