EL PASO, Texas (CN) – The attorney for a Mexican reporter who fled to the United States after he was beaten by Mexican federal police who threatened his life has demanded his release from an El Paso immigration prison.
Martin Méndez Pineda, 25, was a reporter for Novedades, a newspaper in Acapulco in the southern state of Guerrero.
Méndez has been locked up in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement prison in El Paso since Feb. 5, his El Paso attorney Carlos Spector said Tuesday.
Though U.S. immigration officials found Méndez has a credible fear of returning to Mexico, a legal standard required to seek political asylum, they refused to release him.
Méndez asked to be freed so he could live with his cousin in California as his case plays out.
But in a March 28 notice denying Méndez parole, ICE says Méndez hasn’t established “substantial ties to the community” and that “imposition of a bond or other conditions of parole would not ensure, to ICE’s satisfaction, your appearance at required immigration hearings pending the outcome of your case.”
Mexican Judicial Police attacked Méndez after he wrote an article in February 2016 with the headline “Gendarmes Abuse and Violate the Rights of Citizens.” It described how heavily armed officers tried to handcuff an injured man who had crashed his Volkswagen after its brakes went out.
“Approximately one month later, six men arrived at his home, aimed a gun at him and threatened him with death,” Spector said in a statement.
The next day Méndez filed and publicized a complaint against the federal police and Mexican military with Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights.
He fled to Baja California, but was forced to seek refuge in the United States as federal police continued to hunt for him and began calling his cellphone.
President Donald Trump’s administration is trying to make an example out of Méndez, Spector said at a news conference Tuesday that was streamed on the internet.
“ICE went to Washington to get this from higher-ups, to, I believe, send a message to this community and the nation that from now on anybody who comes seeking asylum will be deterred,” Spector said.
Alan Dicker works for the Hope Border Institute, a social-rights organization affiliated with the Catholic Church that’s based in El Paso and Las Cruces, New Mexico. He said that Méndez is at the mercy of a snail-paced U.S. immigration system.
“The asylum process can be years, potentially. That’s what we mean when we say they aren’t giving him parole. That means he could potentially be jailed for years until his process is done. If a judge decides that he doesn’t get asylum and he has to appeal he still has to remain in jail for that whole process,” Dicker said.
Reporters Without Borders’ 2016 World Press Freedom Index ranks Mexico as the most dangerous for reporters in the Western Hemisphere.
Since 2000, more than 100 journalists have been killed in Mexico, according to the El Paso Times.
Eleven reporters were murdered in Mexico in 2016.
The March 23 killing of Miroslava Breach Velducea, 54, a prominent reporter and editor for Norte newspaper in Ciudad Juarez, led Norte’s owner to shutter its operations. It printed its last edition March 2.
Breach Velducea was the third Mexican journalist assassinated this year.
Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International have joined a chorus calling for Méndez’s release, and a local Catholic priest, along with social workers from the University of Texas El Paso, have visited Méndez in jail.
“We call on ICE to release Martin Méndez Pineda without delay. This journalist, who has been persecuted and threatened with death in his country, must be allowed to present his case for political asylum freely and with dignity before an immigration judge,” Emmanuel Colombié, chief of Reporters Without Borders’ Latin American bureau, said in a statement.