A Mexican journalist seeking asylum in the U.S. had withdrawn his petition and returned to his country last Tuesday after being detained in what he described as a dilapidated, rat and snake-infested detention center in Texas for months, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE.
Martin Mendez Pineda, 26, was detained after he arrived on the Texas-Mexico border in February and asked for asylum at the Paso del Norte International Bridge in El Paso, Texas. He was a journalist with the Newspaper Novedades Acapulco in the Mexican state of Guerrero. After covering a number of violent arrests made by federal police officers, in February Pineda alleged he was assaulted and received death threats.
He had all the documents required to apply for political asylum and passed a “credible fear” interview used to certify that the danger he faces in Mexico is real and which ordinarily would have allowed him to enter the country. However, U.S. officials rejected Mendez’s request for a parole while his case went through immigrations courts, saying that he lacks “substantial ties to the community” or proof that he was not a “flight risk.”
“When I decided to come to the United States and seek refuge, I believed that I would be welcomed after presenting all of the necessary documents required by law. But when I arrived in the U.S., I found that this is not true and that only bureaucracy reigns,” Mendez wrote in a letter in April to Reporters Without Borders. “It is indeed more complicated than it seems, and it is true that all immigrants here are treated like criminals or drug traffickers. Sadly, now I too am experiencing it.”
On Jan. 25, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that called for fewer people to be released into the United States after detention. A February memo from the Department of Homeland Security told law enforcement either ICE’s deputy or the deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol needs to personally sign off on nearly all decisions to grant parole to immigrants. This has led to a significant drop in bond issuances and paroles for asylum seekers awaiting rulings on their cases.
A spokesperson for ICE said that each asylum is decided on a case-by-case basis and the agency takes into account several factors, including safety considerations and any other sensitive issues involving the case, according to the Texas Tribune.
Federal statistics show fewer than 4 percent of the 12,831 asylum requests from Mexicans were granted in the 2016 fiscal year.
"It is very serious. The asylum is criminalized and bail is being denied without any reason. This has to be understood as a political attack on the Mexican community at the border," Mendez's lawyer Carlos Spector told Spanish newspaper El País.
According to the Reporters Without Borders, journalism is a dangerous job in Guerrero, with 11 journalists murdered in the state since 2003. The most recent victim was Cecilio Pineda Birto, a crime reporter who was gunned down in the violence-ridden state of Guerrero in March.
Meanwhile, a new report by press freedom group Article 19, found that people who kill journalists in Mexico get away with murder 99.7 percent of the time. It points out that 2016 was "the most violent year for the press in Mexico" with a record of 426 attacks and 11 journalists murdered, the largest number in the last 10 years.
After his second attempt for parole was denied this month, Mendez decided to give up and returned to Mexico.
“Undoubtedly, he’s still at risk,” Balbina Flores, a Reporters Without Borders representative in Mexico, told the Dallas Morning News. Flores said the organization is in contact with Mendez but won’t reveal his location because it might jeopardize his safety.
Mexico is one of the deadliest countries for journalists in the world, ranking 149 out of 180 in Reporters Without Borders 2016 World Press Freedom Index. So far in 2017, eight Mexican journalists have been killed.