LatinaLista — Former Mexican newspaper reporter, Emilio Gutierrez-Soto, is counting his lucky stars that he happened to be incarcerated at an immigrant detention facility as Obama took office. Otherwise, there’s no telling how long he would have been locked up.
Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto, top right, and attorney Carlos Spector, top left, meet with journalists following his release from detention Friday, Jan. 30, 2009 in El Paso, Texas. Gutierrez awaits a ruling on his attempts to be granted asylum.
(Source:AP Photo/The El Paso Times, Victor Calzada)
As it was, without explanation from the Department of Homeland Security, Gutierrez-Soto was released last Thursday.
Gutierrez-Soto had called the immigrant detention facility home for the past 7 months. A former newspaper reporter from El Diario newspaper in Ascencion, Mexico, Gutierrez-Soto and his 15-year-old son fled Mexico last summer after their home was ransacked by men claiming to be soldiers.
It seems the military didn’t like Gutierrez-Soto’s style of reporting â€” he was writing articles about how the military are abusing private citizens as they searched their homes for drug cartel members. Gutierrez-Soto genuinely feared for his life – he routinely got death threats but when those men showed up in person and roughed up his belongings, he knew it was time to leave his beloved Mexico behind.
So he and his son crossed the border at Antelope Wells, New Mexico and asked for asylum.
Standard procedure in the Bush Administration these past 8 years was to lock up asylum-seekers like Gutierrez-Soto and his son for indefinite periods of time. It was never enough for the former administration that these people asking for asylum had already undergone traumatic events in their lives but administration officials felt compelled to compound the trauma with abysmal treatment by never giving asylum-seekers a clear date as to when they would be released.
On top of that, the administration routinely locked up entire families who had asked for asylum without blinking an eye as to what they were doing to the children and adults who only wanted a safe place to sleep and freedom from being threatened with death.
Gutierrez-Soto’s attorney knows very well the role the Obama administration played in his client’s release from detention:
“I think that once the Obama administration came in and laid out their policies and their vision, that we were going back to what America is all about, due process,” said Carlos Spector, Gutierrez-Soto’s lawyer.
He thinks his client would still be detained if Obama wasn’t in office.
â€œThe Bush administration was characterized by silence, non-accountability and inhumane treatment of detainees,” Spector said.
Why the U.S. government would detain someone for 7 months who was asking for asylum because of a job that put him at-risk from criminal elements that his own government could not keep him safe from defies common sense.
As we know, Gutierrez-Soto isn’t the only high-profile Mexican asking for asylum. As conditions continue to deteriorate along the U.S.-Mexico border, more and more professionals are asking for asylum.
More than 150 people from Mexico, including police officers, businessmen and at least one prosecutor, have sought asylum since October 2007, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in El Paso.
It’s not known how many of these asylum-seekers are still behind bars treated like the criminals they’re running from. Or how many children are calling detention centers home just because their parents were brave enough to make the journey to this country and ask for help.
The release of Gutierrez-Soto is a good and overdue start to reinstating the type of justice that the global community has always idealized existed in the United States. However, it’s time for Secretary Janet Napolitano to sit down and seriously review who is in our detention facilities, how long they’ve been there and set a date for their release.
The dark days of criminalizing asylum-seekers indefinitely is over â€” it has to be. Because there’s no greater abuse of fundamental human rights than locking somebody up and throwing away the key just for asking for help.