EL PASO — A Mexican reporter and his son — who are seeking asylum in the United States — were released Thursday after spending seven months in federal detention in El Paso.
Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, 55, and his son Oscar, 25, fled the border state of Chihuahua in 2008 when Emilio Gutiérrez’s reporting on government and military corruption there led to death threats.
After living and working legally in the United States for almost a decade, the two were arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in December during what their attorney said should have been a regular check-in with authorities.
Their release Thursday comes a day before a court-ordered deadline for Department of Homeland Security officials to turn over to a federal judge in El Paso emails and other correspondence detailing why the Gutiérrezes were placed on a “non-detained target list” created by ICE officials shortly after President Donald Trump took office.
Their fight to gain asylum is far from over: the Gutiérrezes' claim was denied last year and their appeal was initially dismissed in December. But the Board of Immigration Appeals reinstated the appeal, and the board ruled in May that new evidence submitted in the case was worth considering. They are scheduled to appear before an immigration judge next month to argue their case.
But for a short moment the father-and-son pair that have garnered worldwide attention were all smiles outside the federal immigration detention center where they had been held since late last year. Gutiérrez and his son were separated for seven months after they arrived in 2008 but were detained together in El Paso since last December.
When asked what has kept him going for so long and why he continues to fight, Emilio Gutiérrez didn’t hesitate.
“My son. He’s been my inspiration. I understand and I share the pain with all the families who have come to this country in order to save their own lives,” he said, referring to the thousands of families who were separated after seeking asylum under Trump’s "zero tolerance" policy.
In an order issued earlier this month, Judge David Guaderrama said there was evidence to suggest that the government might have detained the Gutiérrezes for nothing more than the older Gutiérrez speaking out against the asylum process.
“We believe they detained him in violation of his First Amendment rights in retaliation for criticizing both the [U.S.] immigration process and for criticizing the Mexican government,” said Eduardo Beckett, the Gutiérrezes' lawyer.
The correspondence won’t have to be turned over because the Gutiérrezes were released, Beckett said. But he added that other organizations, including the National Press Club, could still argue in court that the exchanges should be released. The National Press Club has been one of Gutierrez’s most vocal supporters and awarded him the organization’s John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award in October, two months before he and his son were detained.
In his order, Guaderrama cited the award and the publicity surrounding it as one of the potential reasons ICE may have targeted the Gutiérrezes.
“Mr. Gutiérrez-Soto criticized ICE and the government in a very public manner while accepting a prestigious award from the National Press Club. His arrest occurred only a couple months later,” he wrote.
Emilio Gutiérrez was also awarded a Knight-Wallace Fellowship for the next academic year by the University of Michigan. The university has offered a $75,000 stipend but needs Gutiérrez in Ann Arbor by Aug. 27.
That possibility that will happen looks more likely after Thursday’s development. But Beckett said his first order of business was to get the two to a decent steakhouse and a warm bed in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where they lived and worked before being detained in December.
“We’re thankful for all of the lawyers and the press [who followed the story],” he said. “This victory was a collective effort.”