US–MEXICO RELATIONS

Mexican journalist seeking asylum in the US held for more than two months

Lawyer of Martín Méndez says detention reflects new policy targeting all Mexicans

On February 5, Mexican journalist Martín Méndez Pineda crossed into the United States, requesting asylum after he received death threats in his home state of Guerrero, in the south of the country. He presented all the necessary documents, following procedure to the letter of the law, providing proof that his life was in danger.

Mexican journalist Martín Méndez Pineda.
Mexican journalist Martín Méndez Pineda.Cortesía

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More than two months later, Méndez Pineda is being held in detention in El Paso, Texas, fearful that he may be deported back to Mexico at any time, with the US authorities saying they will not release him because they believe he may well flee while awaiting a decision on his asylum request.

“This is criminalizing asylum: he has been denied the right to post bond for no reason. This has to be seen as a political attack on the Mexican community living on the border,” says Méndez’s lawyer, Carlos Spector, blaming the tough immigration policies introduced by Donald Trump since he took office in January. “It doesn’t matter whether you are an asylum seeker or an immigrant with no papers, this is a shift toward a police state,” says Spector.

So far, the Mexican authorities have said nothing about Méndez’s case

Méndez, aged 26, worked at the Novedades de Acapulco newspaper, where, in February 2016, he published a story about abuses by federal police. A month later, six armed men turned up at his house and threatened to kill him.

He moved to the Mexican border city of Tijuana, more than 3,000 kilometers from Acapulco, but the death threats continued. A friend and former colleague at Novedades says Méndez grew up in one of Acapulco’s toughest districts and that he is used to the violence that has escalated there in recent years. “But this latest episode was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she says, asking for anonymity.

In March, Méndez established that the threat to his life was credible. What would normally happen after that is that an asylum seeker in the United States would be released by a special court. But US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) believes Méndez, who was going to stay with a relative who holds a US passport, is a flight risk.

“The surprising thing is that Martín has passed the test; they know that his life is in danger and they know that Mexico is a dangerous place for journalists,” says Emmanuel Colombié, the Latin American representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which is following the case. More than 100 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000, and the country was ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

In a recent telephone conversation recorded with his former colleague at Novedades, Méndez explains his situation: “The [ICE] strategy is lengthy detentions, they could keep me for a month, two months, up to a year… They’ll let me out when they decide, but I don’t know when, I should already be out.”

So far, the Mexican authorities have said nothing about Méndez’s case.

“This is a very important case because it could set a precedent for Mexican journalists and others seeking asylum in the United States,” says Spector.

Cecilio Pineda, also from Guerrero, was murdered on March 2; over the following three weeks, two more journalists were killed in Mexico, Miroslava Breach and Ricardo Monluí.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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