Not much happens at the lonely outpost of Antelope Wells, a border crossing in the remote bootheel area of New Mexico. It is the smallest and least-used border crossing of the 43 ports of entry along the border with Mexico.
But June 14, 2008 turned out not to be an average day. Emilio Gutierrez crossed the border from Mexico along with his 15-year-old son. The event has sparked a firestorm of the asylum process.
Gutierrez, 45, had been a journalist for the El Diario newspaper in Ascension, a small city in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. He told U.S. officials he had received death threats for two years, which finally consummated in about 50 armed soldiers trashing his house in May.
Gutierrez, fearing for his life, took his son and headed for the U.S. border, only to find out that receiving asylum is not as easy to get as he hoped. Gutierrez was put in an immigration jail in El Paso, languishing there until last week when he was inexplicably released.
It seems as if it would be a cut-and-dried asylum case. A journalist who reported on crime in Mexico is threatened; his house is ransacked by soldiers, and he fears for his life. The problem is, fear of crime is not an adequate reason to grant asylum.
According to immigration law, asylum can be granted if the person is being persecuted because of race, religion, political view, nationality, or membership in a particular group. Asylum seekers must also show that their government is either unwilling or unable to protect them.
Gutierrez did not meet these criteria, hence the jail time while officials sorted through the situation.
Since Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on pending cases, it is unclear what Gutierrez’ situation is at present. His asylum application is pending, but a hearing date has not been set.
Meanwhile, he is basking in the company of his son, who has been living with relatives in El Paso. He also has no intention of returning to Mexico, regardless of how his case turns out. He said he will find another country that will take him if the U.S. turns him down.