NEW YORK—The decision by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release journalist Emilio Gutiérrez-Soto and his son Oscar after nearly eight months in detention recognizes the injustice of his detention and represents an important step forward in his fight for asylum, PEN America said in a statement today.

After being detained with his son since December 2017, Gutiérrez and his son were released Thursday from a detention facility in El Paso, Texas. Earlier in July Federal District Court Judge David Guaderrama had issued an order asserting there was evidence Gutiérrez was detained in retaliation for remarks he made critiquing the immigration process while accepting an award at the National Press Club. They were released one day before the court’s deadline for the Department of Homeland Security to provide correspondence showing why Gutiérrez was placed on ICE’s “non-detained targets” list. Gutiérrez will now be able to start a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan as his asylum case moves forward. A hearing is scheduled for next month.

“We are delighted that Emilio and Oscar have been released, although their detention was unwarranted from the beginning” said Summer Lopez, PEN America’s Senior Director of Free Expression Programs. “Emilio’s courageous commitment to exposing corruption in Mexico through his reporting put his life at risk. The United States enacted into law in 1980 the process for those seeking asylum from persecution and death threats for their work, and this country has provided safe haven for many such brave individuals. In this case, it appears Emilio Gutierrez was singled out for adverse action by the federal government for exercising his right to free expression—for criticizing the controversial immigration policies of the current administration. Happily, if belatedly, the American judicial process has prompted the executive branch to reverse course and end this unjust detention.”

Gutiérrez’s reporting on government corruption in Mexico made him the target of death threats, and in 2008 after learning his name was on a hit list, Emilio and his then-15-year-old son sought asylum in the U.S. At the time, US immigration officials determined he had a “credible fear” of being murdered if he were sent back to Mexico and he was permitted him to work in the U.S. Gutierrez worked legally in Texas until July 2017, when an El Paso immigration judge denied their asylum claim and questioned Gutiérrez’s credentials as a journalist, and in December Gutiérrez and his son were detained by ICE. In November 2017, PEN America joined the National Press Club and other press freedom organizations in denouncing efforts to deport Gutiérrez, and in March joined an amicus brief that helped obtain review of the immigration judge’s decision. In April, PEN America joined a second amicus brief in support of a writ of habeus corpus filed by the Rutgers University Law School.  


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: