WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Press Club and its nonprofit Journalism Institute are asking the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals to grant asylum to NPC Press Freedom award-winner Emilio Gutierrez, a Mexican journalist now imprisoned in El Paso.
"We are stepping out of our normal role as observers to advocate in this case because we believe the precedent that could be set is so ominous, not only for the safety of our colleagues but for the future of free speech," wrote NPC President Jeff Ballou and Journalism Institute president Barbara Cochran in a letter to the Board of Appeals.
An arm of the Justice Department, the Board of Immigration Appeals stayed an attempt by U.S. Immigration and Customs officials to deport Gutierrez earlier this month. But now ICE is holding him at an El Paso facility where his attorney, Eduardo Beckett, says he must sleep on a cold, concrete floor. Beckett sent the Press Club a photo of Gutierrez in shackles two months after he was honored on the dais of the National Press Club.
The Press Club is asking the appeals board to grant Gutierrez the asylum he has been seeking for nearly a decade, and his freedom. The reporter left Mexico, along with his then-15-year-old son, in 2008 after a confidential source told him he was on a hit list for reporting abuses by the Mexican military.
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House and the United Nations. Speaking by phone from his jail cell during a National Press Club press conference last week, Gutierrez said he has been told repeatedly that he will be killed if he returns to Mexico.
Deporting Gutierrez could be "tantamount to death sentence by immigration judge," Ballou and Cochran warned in their letter.
Gutierrez, who had been living and working in Las Cruces, New Mexico, while his asylum case was being adjudicated, has been detained by ICE since last week, when Board of Immigration Appeals issued a stay of his deportation. Initially shipped to Sierra Blanca, a remote Texas facility 90 miles from his lawyer, Gutierrez has since been returned to El Paso.
The National Press Club has asked ICE officials why Gutierrez is being detained; so far our questions have gone unanswered.
Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders alerted us that, at a press conference Thursday where he appeared with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, reporters asked Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan about Gutierrez's case. Sullivan did not address specifics but said: "Freedom of the press is an indispensable component of a functioning democracy. And so we're concerned whenever we hear reports of journalists being targeted."
Nearly 10,000 people so far have signed the National Press Club's petition on Change.org to #FreeEmilio. The full text of the letter to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals is below.
December 13, 2017
Board of Immigration Appeals
Department of Justice
5107 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041
RE: Appeal of Emilio Gutierrez
To the Board of Immigration Appeals:
We are writing as members of one of the world's leading organizations representing journalists to urge the board to overturn the denial of asylum issued in the case of Emilio Gutierrez.
We are stepping out of our normal role as observers to advocate in this case because we believe the precedent that could be set is so ominous, not only for the safety of our colleagues but for the future of free speech.
A return of Emilio Gutierrez to Mexico, a country widely conceded to be the most dangerous in the Western hemisphere for journalists, could be tantamount to a death sentence by an immigration judge.
Like all too many of his colleagues in Mexico, Gutierrez is in real danger of losing his life because of his reporting. The peril has been catalogued by such respected organizations as the United Nations, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
It was to highlight this threat that the National Press Club in October invited Gutierrez to accept our prestigious John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award on behalf of his Mexican colleagues. That, in itself, should be enough to allay the concerns that Judge Robert Hough expressed about the validity of Gutierrez' journalistic bona fides in his opinion. But nearly two dozen other press organizations have signed onto our letter supporting Gutierrez's case.
We ask that some common sense prevail here: This is a reporter who has abided by every immigration rule and regulation since he arrived here nearly a decade ago.
He has had to give up everything that is familiar, including his livelihood, to come to the United States. This is not a decision anyone would take lightly. There is every reason, including the almost daily reports coming out of Mexico of violence against our colleagues, to give credence to Gutierrez' case.
We ask that his request of asylum be granted, and that of his son, who is not a journalist, but whose life was also put in danger by his father's journalistic work.
Many thanks for your consideration.
President, National Press Club
President, National Press Club Journalism Institute
Cc: Office of Chief Counsel DHS/ICE
11541 Montana Avenue, Suite O
El Paso, Texas 79936
SOURCE National Press Club