US grants Mexico journalist asylum after 15 years

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The US granted Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto asylum on Thursday after a 15-year battle. Gutierrez Soto was forced to leave Mexico in 2008 when his critical reporting about the Mexican military attracted negative attention from Mexican officials. Gutierrez Soto, a Mexican citizen and native of Mexico, has been fighting to get asylum in the US since then.

Appellate Immigration Judge O’Connor ruled that Emilio and his son Oscar Gutierrez Soto, who are natives to and citizens of Mexico, are eligible for asylum. Gutierrez Soto filed an appeal against a lower ruling that denied his asylum and withholding applications under the Immigration and Nationality Act. In their appeal, Gutierrez Soto sought protection under the regulations implementing the Convention Against Torture.

Both Emilio and Oscar Gutierrez Soto provided numerous letters and extensive declarations that explained the perceived inconsistencies involving whether or not threats at the hands of the military had been reported to the authorities and the relevant response received. After receiving this evidence, Immigration Judge O’Connor remarked, “[O]n the record before us, we are unable to affirm the [lower court’s] adverse credibility determination, and we will therefore reverse it as clearly erroneous.” The court applied the Wang v. Holder principle to describe an adverse credibility determination and stated that it may be supported by “any inconsistency or omission,” provided that “the totality of the circumstances establishes that an asylum applicant is not credible.”

The Board of Immigration Appeal also acknowledged Emilio Gutierrez Soto’s extensive journalistic work in Mexico prior to his escape to the US. His main focus was on the corruption in the Mexican military. Gutierrez Soto, according to the National Press Club who supported his fight for asylum six years ago fled “Ascension in Chihuahua Mexico” after a source informed him that he was a “marked man” because of his reporting about the military’s attempts to extort locals. In spite of this, US immigration officials attempted to deport Gutierrez Soto in 2017. Gutierrez Soto’s release was made possible by the intervention of several free-press organizations and Rutgers University Law School International Human Rights Clinic. Violence against journalists in Mexico has increased steadily in recent years. Article 19, an international human-rights group, in a report published in April 2022 described Mexico as the “most dangerous country for journalism” outside active war zones. After 15 murders of journalists in 2022, seven journalists were found dead this year.