EL PASO, TEXAS – Advocacy groups in El Paso and the rest of the country are demanding the release of a Mexican journalist who came to the United States seeking asylum because he feared his reporting would cost him his life.
Martin Mendez Pineda, 25, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Feb. 5 after entering the country through El Paso.
Mendez alleged he was beaten and had received death threats for an article he wrote criticizing the Mexican federal police in Novedades, a newspaper in his native state of Guerrero.
The organization Reporters Without Borders backed Mendez’s claim that several men went to his home, assaulted him and threatened to kill him.
Immigrant rights groups held a joint press conference Wednesday demanding his release.
“It seems an unjust situation that could be handled at the local level, even though we were told orders from Washington prohibit them from releasing him,” said Father Bob Mosher, with the Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee.
“It seems to be part of a pattern of a growing disregard for the rights of people asking for asylum in this country,” he said.
Mosher said he met with Mendez at the request of his attorney, Carlos Spector, and said the reporter was distressed, confused and depressed after being moved around multiple detention centers in the last three months.
“I can see he’s really struggling and it seems an unjust situation,” said Mosher.
Mendez’s supporters believe he should be released on parole while he awaits an immigration and asylum hearing.
The reporter has already had a successful interview with ICE in which the government acknowledged he was fleeing from a credible fear, according to Mosher.
On April 13, Mendez wrote an open letter describing his journey and experience in the detention center he is now at, the El Paso Processing Center.
“I ask the American people to give me their support because being detained here is truly a torture. I am a good person and I would never wish for anyone to be held in this place,” wrote Mendez.
Delphine Halgand, U.S. Director for Reporters Without Borders, said the detention contradicts some of America’s most precious values.
“[The American people] always think they have the strongest press freedom and then, when you compare issues like that of journalists facing death threats and detained when they arrive in the U.S., I think they would be surprised to know this,” she said.
The organization has started a petition to free Mendez with 1,600 signatures.
Ten journalists were killed in Mexico in 2016 and three journalists have been killed so far in 2017.
ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.