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Beckett says more than 400 people have asked him for help since January “They are asylum-seekers, people who fear they will be killed, people who were shot or were wounded. Many are police informants or failed informants. Women with children, business owners and workers. They have received threats from cartels or criminal organizations that have ties to corrupt Mexican government officials,” he said. “We can get some of them non-immigrant visas; some go to shelters or with family. They say, ‘Give me a hand.’ For us on the border, El Paso and Juarez are the same city, so they come and they hope they don’t get caught.” ONE CASE THAT ILLUSTRATES the difficulties of receiving asylum, and how things may change, involves Emilio Gutierrez Soto. A journalist, he fled his hometown of Ascension, 98 miles west of Juarez, last year with his 15-year-old son after the military threatened his life for writing about their abuses. He requested asylum at the small border crossing of Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Gutierrez landed in ICE detention in El Paso for seven months. He was separated from his son, who was locked up for two months. Because of an outcry by journalist organizations, he was ultimately released, pending a hearing next year on his asylum eligibility “The overt policy of the U.S. government is to discourage Mexican asylum applicants,” said Spector, the immigration lawyer who is representing Gutierrez. “The judges here have a learning curve because they don’t believe what they’re hearing. They say, ‘How can this be, this nightmare you’re presenting?’ And then there’s the fear that the floodgates will open, as with the immigration debate.” Spector says Gutierrez is his strongest asylum case. A victory could set a precedent by proving that the Mexican government can’t protect one of its citizens. Threats against Gutierrez began in January 2005, when he wrote about soldiers accompanying a known kidnapper to storm a lodge in Las Palomas. They stole jewelry and other items from the guests and threatened to kill them. After he wrote the story, a senior military officer threatened to kill Gutierrez if he wrote another story about the army. His newspaper, Diario del Noroeste, ran the headline “High-ranking officials threatened to kill the correspondent in Ascension.” For the next two years, Gutierrez filed formal complaints with the state and the national human rights office. “I was naive. I had confidence all that time that the government would help me, because we have institutions that protect citizens,” Gutierrez, 41, said in an interview in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The threats mounted, and one night the military ransacked his home, taking files and documents and destroying furniture. “They told me, ‘Get on the floor!’ and they said this will be the last time I write about them,” he says. “I realized then that if I hung on, it would be the end.” That night he drove with his son to the border and asked U.S. officials to help him, never realizing he would be jailed. Now on Saturdays Gutierrez runs the desk at the El Paso bureau of Juarez’s El Diario. But mostly he sells burritos that he and his son make in the mornings. They take them door to door to businesses in Las Cruces, where he awaits his hearing. When he can, he travels the United States telling his story, and that of other Mexican journalists. Thirty-three journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2006, and 17 went missing this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. “I have to survive,” Gutierrez said. “None of us wants to leave Mexico, our lives, our jobs. But those who are able to cross the border have no other alternative … The worst is knowing I can probably never go back. They took my country away.” SPECTOR, LIKE MANY LIFELONG El Paso residents, believes the United States can’t continue to seal its borders while it finances a war that Mexican citizens can’t escape. “What is it going to take to stop this? Another revolution? Brace yourself,” Spector said. “It’s all a fraud and it’s coming unglued, and each month, every day, it’s worse.” Many Mexicans and Americans believe the solution is to decriminalize some drugs, but that is a far-offpossibility. In the meantime, Calderonwith U.S. backingremains intent on violently cracking down on the cartels. “I think Mexico is going through the most violence since the Mexican Revolution,” said Anthony Payan, a political scientist and border expert at the University of Texas at El Paso. “It’s a bi-national problem, but essentially it’s an American war being fought in a foreign territory, like all our other wars,” he said. “The war on drugs that began with Nixon is an official policy of prohibition. And it’s our longest war, but it doesn’t mesh with America’s social tolerance and attitude toward drugs.” With no lessening ofviolence in sight, what will the U.S. government do to help the victims of its war in Mexico? Under pressure from human rights organizations, the Obama administration issued a new policy for ICE in January to change the formula for arresting and jailing asylum applicants fleeing persecution. It allows discretion in determining what happens to someone with “credible fear” of persecution in their native country. ICE officials now say they will “generally release arriving asylum seekers.” Thus, if a Mexican citizen at a U.S. border checkpoint tells an officer he or she wants asylum, the officer may allow entry without formally admitting the person or assigning them an immigration status. The officer can also grant “automatic consideration for parole.” But that’s the case only if the officer believes the asylum seeker. No matter what happens, the immigrant will still be detained, often in solitary, and still have to appear before an immigration judge, who will determine whether a credible fear exists. While these reforms are important, they still leave ICE agents and immigration judges enormous leeway, and it is too early to tell whether Mexican refugees are actually being judged any differently under the new policy. In the meantime, Ana and her family wait in limbo in the shelter in El Paso, not knowing where the future will take them. The Mexican government’s attacks on the cartels appear to have had little influence on the availability of drugs in the United States. Drugs move north, money changes hands, and guns and profits go south. The violence gets worse. And a little girl hides, developing ulcers and growing depressed. “We’re just grateful she’s alive,” her mother said. CI Susana Hayward spent 10 years covering Mexico for the Associated Press, Knight-Ridder newspapers and the San Antonio Express-News. She is a freelance reporter based in San Antonio. “The government declares a war against the cartels, who respond with more executions, kidnappings and extortion to recuperate capital. And that’s what began the human exodus.” AUGUST 06, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER