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Mexican Reporter Asylum Case Postponed Until 2012

A final ruling in the case of a Mexican reporter seeking asylum in the U.S. with his teenage son has been postponed until 2012 after his attorney was subpoenaed to appear in federal court in an unrelated case and asked for a rescheduling.

Mexican reporter Emilio Gutiérrez has sought asylum in the United States since 2008.

A final ruling in the case of a Mexican reporter seeking asylum in the United States along with his teenage son has been postponed until next year after his attorney was subpoenaed to appear in federal court as an expert witness in an unrelated case and asked for a rescheduling.

Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, a former reporter from Ascensión, Chihuahua, who wrote for the affiliate of El Diario de Juárez, has been seeking asylum since 2008. His initial hearing began last month in El Paso and was originally scheduled to continue today after both sides agreed more time was needed to review evidence. Gutiérrez’s attorney, Carlos Spector, was subpoenaed, however, and was told by Judge Robert Hough after he requested the rescheduling that the case would not resume until May 2012, Spector’s office said.

Gutiérrez fled his town following threats from the Mexican military after he reported on its alleged mistreatment of residents in the small Mexican village. The military was dispatched to that part of northern Chihuahua in the early stages of Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s efforts to combat organized crime there.  

“It’s like I am living in limbo, like I am just a number,” an agitated Gutiérrez told the Tribune today by phone from his temporary residence in Dona Ana County, N.M. “It’s a game that both countries are playing. I didn’t come here just to leave Mexico and get immigration papers, the way some people are saying. I came because I feared for my life.”

Hough’s office did not return phone calls seeking comment on the case.

Carlos Spector and Gutiérrez must prove that the journalist faces a credible threat and that he was persecuted in Mexico for expressing his political opinion. He must go before a judge and not an asylum officer because he arrived at the port of entry without legal crossing papers and was detained by federal authorities. He is requesting what the government calls “defensive asylum,” defined as a “defense against removal from the U.S.” It involves being detained, either at a port of entry or in the interior, and being subject to expedited removal from the U.S. under current immigration law. The other option, affirmative asylum, involves entering the country with valid documents and requesting an interview with an asylum officer. The latter option, Spector says, is less adversarial.

Gutiérrez will still be allowed to work and live in the U.S. until the judge renders his decision. His journey began in the pre-dawn hours in June 2008 when he and his 15-year-old son fled their home and arrived at the port of entry at Antelope Wells, N.M. Gutiérrez was held at an immigration detention center in El Paso for seven months. His son was in a similar facility for juveniles for two months then released into the custody of relatives.

Despite the setback, Gutiérrez said the delay will give his team more time to gather evidence to prove his claim that his reporting on Calderón’s war and the actions of the soldiers the president sent to wage it could ultimately cost him his life if he ever returned to Mexico. 

Should Gutiérrez prevail, he will be one of the select few to whom the U.S. government awards asylum.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees defensive asylum requests, did not have data for 2010. But in 2009, the government received 2,816 defensive asylum requests from Mexico, 62 of which were approved and 366 were denied; 1,750 were voluntarily withdrawn. In 2008, it received 3,459 applications; 72 were approved, 250 denied and 1,600 were withdrawn.

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