Salvadoran reporter in Ga. faces immigration drama

A reporter for Georgia's largest Spanish-language newspaper who frequently writes about immigration issues has recently found himself caught up in his own immigration drama.

When an immigration judge last month denied Mario Guevara's application for asylum and ordered him and his family to leave the country within 60 days, his world was turned upside down. Guevara said he left El Salvador in 2004 after he was beaten and repeatedly harassed by leftist groups because of his work as a political reporter for La Prensa Grafica, a conservative newspaper with close ties to the political party that was in power at the time, according to documents filed in an Atlanta immigration court.

Immigration authorities have spoken to Guevara and his lawyer to try to resolve the situation, but for the last few weeks Guevara has felt much like the people he so often writes about.

"I wrote a lot of stories about immigration. I feel like I'm one of my sources," he said Thursday. "I'm one more victim of the immigration system."

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has decided Guevara is a candidate for prosecutorial discretion, and the agency is working with him to close his case, an ICE spokesman said Thursday. That would mean they wouldn't pursue deportation, and it's a step in the right direction, said his lawyer Byron Kirkpatrick.

But being allowed to stay doesn't do him any good unless the federal government also grants Guevara authorization to work legally, Kirkpatrick said. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency in charge of work authorization, said it cannot comment on individual cases because of the federal Privacy Act.

Kirkpatrick said he still plans to go forward with an appeal of the immigration court judge's ruling on the asylum request.

Guevara sent his pregnant wife and young daughter to Georgia in January 2004, joined them here a few months later on a tourist visa and later applied for asylum. He had to flee his home country, he said, because leftist groups harassed him. He said they implied that he worked for the party-controlled police, demanded that he stop doing journalism and threatened to harm him and his family if he didn't, the court documents say.

Asylum applicants are required to submit their requests within a year of arriving in the U.S. Guevara filed his asylum application in September 2005, about 18 months after his arrival, according to court documents. But U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has said it has no record of that filing and only has record of a second filing of the application in April 2007, court documents say. In a 2008 letter, the agency says it is referring his case to an immigration judge because it found that Guevara had demonstrated "extraordinary circumstances directly related to (the) delay in filing."

Part of the reason Guevara filed his asylum application six months late is because he was suffering from what was later diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the harassment he suffered combined with the cultural and economic shock of uprooting his family and fleeing to the U.S., the court filing says.

Guevara has two young sons who were born here and are U.S. citizens. His mother and brother, a veteran who fought in Afghanistan, are also citizens.

Kirkpatrick said the immigration judge who denied the asylum plea reasoned that Guevara didn't suffer past persecution; didn't demonstrate that police in El Salvador are unable or unwilling to protect him; doesn't have a well-founded fear of future persecution; and didn't file his application in a timely manner and failed to establish extraordinary circumstances causing the delay.