Three Mexican journalists facing death threats in their native country urged the U.S. government Wednesday to speed up approval of their asylum petitions.
Emilio Gutierrez Soto said he first received threats in 2005 after writing stories about alleged military involvement in drug trafficking in the northern state of Chihuahua. Three years later, his house was ransacked, and he received more threats. After filing complaints with the national government and getting little response, he fled the country in 2008 with his 15-year-old son.
Gutierrez was held for more than seven months in a U.S. immigration detention center, until his story was aired on national television. His son was held for four months. The next hearing in his case is not likely to happen before 2012.
Gutierrez called the drug war a cancer destroying his country, during a panel discussion at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' annual meeting in the central Florida suburb of Lake Buena Vista. The former reporter for Ciudad Juarez's El Diario newspaper said losing his country was harder even than the death of his parents. He pleaded with the U.S. government to make a decision in his case and those of his fellow journalists.
"We are living in a legal limbo," said Gutierrez, who has a temporary work permit but has yet to find a job. "We are unable to have any emotional, familial or employment stability."
Reporter Ricardo Chavez Aldana, a native of Ciudad Juarez, attacked the drug cartels on his radio show until his nephews were killed outside their home. He says he and his wife, mother and son received repeated death threats until they crossed the border in 2009 into El Paso, Texas.
"I have covered more than 4,000 killings," he told the group the several hundred journalists gathered at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort.
"They are destroying Mexico. They are killing children, pregnant women, "Chavez said, his voice breaking as he talked of the drug war in Mexico.
Alejandro Hernandez Pacheco was a TV cameraman for Televisa when he was kidnapped last July in Durango, Mexico along with three other reporters, allegedly by one of the country's largest drug cartels who demanded his station no longer broadcast stories about the gang. He was freed a week later and crossed the border in October.
All three men's asylum cases are pending, and they acknowledged that while they may be able to document the persecution they've faced as journalists, they face an added challenge because of the U.S. public's concerns about the flood of immigrants from Mexico.
But all three said they will not return to Mexico.
At least 66 journalists have been killed in the last four years in Mexico, according to the country's government. The U.S. receives hundreds of asylum applications from the country each year, but approves only a handful.
Angela Kocherga of Belo TV, who has covered the journalists' asylum cases, as well as life and death along the U.S.-Mexico border said the violence against journalists in Mexico has created "zones of silence."
Added Kocherga: "It's the war next door, and we know more about what's happening in Afghanistan."