Mexican Journalists Flee Drug War, Seek Asylum The cartel war has claimed more than 28,000 lives and has become one of the most dangerous stories in the world. But just one journalist from Mexico is believed to have been granted asylum in the U.S. since the violence exploded four years ago. Now, others hope the doors will open for them.
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Mexican Journalists Flee Drug War, Seek Asylum

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Mexican Journalists Flee Drug War, Seek Asylum

Mexican Journalists Flee Drug War, Seek Asylum

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Now, Soraya mentioned the absence of independent information about the war in Yemen. There is a similar problem with the drug war in Mexico. As we've heard on this program, some Mexican journalists have been killed and others have stopped covering the conflict for their own safety. Some have sought asylum in the United States. NPR's John Burnett reports on one journalist who got it.

JOHN BURNETT: Aguirre fled his city nearly two years ago when he received a death threat, he believes, for writing critically about powerful Chihuahua state officials. From his exile in El Paso, Aguirre went to Washington last year, to testify before the U.S. Senate about his nightmare.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASSES CLINKING)

JORGE LUIS AGUIRRE: Today, I live in exile in a foreign country in order to avoid being murdered for my work as a journalist.

BURNETT: Aguirre is believed to be the only Mexican journalist to be granted asylum since the cartel war exploded in the past four years. He knows how lucky he is.

LUIS AGUIRRE: (Through translator) I hope this asylum is a good precedent and there's a chance for other journalists whose lives are threatened by mafiosos and narco-politicians. The U.S. is a friend to Mexico. That's why it should help journalists.

BURNETT: Carlos Spector, an El Paso immigration attorney, thinks that Aguirre's case is encouraging news.

CARLOS SPECTOR: And we were all waiting for the first case because so many cases have been presented. And I think that there was a learning curve going on that they just weren't believing the tragedies and the chaos and the repression in Mexico. Finally, they've come to realize that there is a major problem in Mexico.

BURNETT: Barbara Hines is director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas Law School.

BARBARA HINES: Many Mexicans are just caught in the crossfire. And for the average person in Mexico, that's not enough for asylum because you have to show that you're a member of a particular group, or you have a particular political opinion.

BURNETT: Mexican journalists constitute a threatened group. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reports more than 30 reporters have been killed or disappeared since December 2006. Just last week, suspected cartel hitmen gunned down a young photographer for El Diaro de Juarez and wounded his co-worker. He was the second journalist at El Diario murdered in less than two years.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

BURNETT: On Tuesday, three journalists who've fled Mexico appeared at a press conference in El Paso to call attention to their plight. Emilio Gutierrez Soto is a Chihuahua newspaper reporter who says he received a death threat after his stories angered the Mexican military. He fled to the U.S. and was locked up in a federal immigration jail for seven months. Now he's out and waiting for his case to be resolved.

EMILIO GUTIERREZ SOTO: (Foreign language spoken)

BURNETT: Ricardo Chavez Aldana is a Juarez radio reporter who says he was threatened and his two nephews were murdered for his on-air criticism of the state government.

RICARDO CHAVEZ ALDANA: (Foreign language spoken)

BURNETT: Alejandro Hernandez Pacheco is a TV cameraman from Torreon who was kidnapped in July by suspected cartel thugs who then demanded his network broadcast a video they produced.

HERNANDEZ PACHECO: (Foreign language spoken)

BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News.

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