DALLAS—A Mexican journalist who was beaten by the country’s federal police for his reporting has been denied asylum in the United States as a result of Trump administration policy and faces deportation back to Mexico.
Martin Mendez Pineda, 25, is currently incarcerated in an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement holding facility in El Paso, Texas. Pineda met a U.S. lawyer at the El Paso border crossing on Feb. 5 and turned himself over to ICE seeking asylum. Pineda underwent a “credible fear” interview with Citizenship and Immigration Services who deemed his life would be in danger if he returned to Mexico, according to Pineda’s attorney, Carlos Spector.
Yet ICE denied Pineda parole, and instead of asylum he now waits for a court hearing where deportation proceedings will begin, Spector said.
An ICE official said the decision to deny Pineda parole was made “upstairs,” according to Spector, who took it as a code for officials in Washington. On Jan. 25, Trump signed an executive order that called for fewer people to be released into the United States after detention (the so-called “catch and release policy). A February memo from the Department of Homeland Security telling law enforcement how to carry out Trump’s order requires either ICE’s deputy or the deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol to personally sign off on nearly all decisions to grant parole to immigrants.
ICE told The Daily Beast in a statement that “parole determinations… are made on a case-by-case basis taking into account all aspects of the case, including safety considerations and any sensitivities involving the case.”
Pineda’s case was one of the apparent few to make it to officials in Washington, according to Spector.
“An ICE officer who I know personally told me that the decision went ‘upstairs’ to Washington,” Spector said. “So the folks in Washington had the letter from RSF asking for [Pineda] to be granted political asylum, and they had all the evidence of why Martin was in danger, and they still denied him.”
On Feb. 22, 2016, Pineda went to the scene of a car accident where the Gendarmerie, a subdivision of the Mexican federal police, were responding. When he arrived, Pineda reported the occupants of one vehicle were being beaten by officers. When Pineda began taking photos of the scene he was threatened and beaten by police, Spector’s attorney said. After writing his story for Novadades Acapulco, Pineda told Spector he was again threatened in person by officers. Two weeks later, masked, armed individuals showed up at Pineda’s home and threatened to kill him.
Pineda contacted Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights and, feeling that his case wasn’t being taken seriously, eventually went to Reporters Sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders). The group counseled Pineda to seek political asylum in the United States and contacted Spector, who walked Pineda across the border and into ICE custody.
“He was very, very scared and he didn’t have anywhere to go other than the U.S.,” said Emmanuel Colombié, RSF’s Director for Latin America.
ICE denied Pineda’s release because it deemed him a flight risk, according to immigration documents provided by Spector to The Daily Beast. ICE claimed that Pineda “does not have significant ties to the community,” meaning he does not have family in the U.S. Spector told ICE in a letter asking for Pineda’s release that his client has no criminal record in Mexico.
“He’s a flight risk because he comes into the country asking for help? That makes no sense,” Spector said.
Greg Chen of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association said Pineda is simply the latest victim of DHS policy that requires parole to be approved at the highest levels. Chen said the provision has effectively stopped nearly all parole requests from being granted, because regional ICE agents are “disincentivized” from sending those requests to superiors in Washington.
“Functionally the president’s order is the death of parole, meaning thousands of people who pose no threat to safety—including families and long-time residents—will be stuck in jail, and detention rates will rise astronomically,” Chen said.
Guerrero, the state in which Pineda worked, is one of the most dangerous in Mexico, said Colombié, and Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Three Mexican journalists have been murdered so far this year.
The killings began on March 2, when Guerrero journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto was murdered “execution style,” according to authorities—shot at least 10 times while laying in a hammock near a car wash. On March 19, Ricardo Monlui Cabrera was gunned down while leaving a restaurant with his wife and child. Four days later, Miroslava Breach was murdered not far from her home in the capital city of Chihuahua. The killers left a note that read “tattletale.” Breach covered violence, organized crime, and political corruption.
It is unclear if any arrests have been made in last month’s murders of the three journalists.
“We know that most of the time it’s guys coming in a car who are masked and they just shoot and run away,” said Colombié. “We cannot know for sure whether the orders come from the local cartel leaders or if it’s in connection to [politicians].”
Following Breach’s murder, her editor decided he’d had enough. In a column titled “Adios,” Oscar Cantu announced that Breach’s former paper, Norte de Ciudad Juarez, would close.
“Everything in life has a beginning and an end, and a price to pay, and if the price is life, I am not prepared for any more of my collaborators to pay it, nor am I prepared to pay it either,” Cantu wrote.
Pineda also wasn’t prepared to pay for journalism with his life, which is why he fled to the United States, Spector said. Now, he faces an uncertain future and a long battle in America’s overworked and crowded immigration system.
“It goes against the moral sense of who we are as a people,” said Spector. “You can’t lock up human beings who are fleeing for their lives.”