A Human Rights Crusader’s Odyssey

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For the past few months I’ve been following the plight of Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, a lawyer and human rights advocate in Juarez. I was astounded to read of his detention on October 15 after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers forced political asylum on him as he was attempting to cross into El Paso.

I’ve heard of people requesting political asylum at an international port of entry but I’ve never heard of ICE forcing political asylum on to someone and then taking him into detention. What kind of signal does it send to imprison a 63-year old man who is very visibly trying to root out military corruption in Juarez? In recent weeks he’s had death threats. One of his bodyguards was beaten and another had his house burned down.

Hickerson has been the chief investigator for the Chihuahua State Commission on Human Rights looking into military abuses and corruption in Juarez. He has documented  numerous cases of abuse, according to news reports. On October 1, Hickerson held a press conference in Juarez announcing that Jose Luis Armendariz, president of the Chihuahua State Commission of Human Rights, had removed him as investigator. Hickerson said that he and his family had received death threats. Armendariz wanted him to reveal who was threatening him. This is basically a death sentence for Hickerson.

So Hickerson is staying in El Paso for his own protection and trying to negotiate with his former boss to receive better security and more bodyguards for his family. “My mistake is that I took my job seriously,” he told the media.

I spoke with Sandra Spector, wife of Carlos Spector who is de la Rosa’s lawyer in El Paso. She said Hickerson was released from detention yesterday after being held for 6 days. After being released he crossed into Juarez then turned around and came back into El Paso as any normal visitor would which is what should have happened in the first place. Hickerson has a border crossing card which allows him to cross back and forth freely.

Spector said Hickerson has received an outpouring of support from around the world. Amnesty International has also been rallying for his cause. The hope is that Mexican officials will give him the security he needs to do such a dangerous job. He doesn’t want to leave his home. His courage to stand up for justice is a bright spot among the bleak and sad news coming out of Juarez these days.

If Hickerson’s negotiations with Mexican officials fail, he will undoubtedly think twice about seeking political asylum in the United States.

 

 

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.