The body of Mexican journalist Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz was discovered last month in Veracruz. A month earlier, her colleague Miguel Angel Lopez was found shot to death inside his home in the same eastern port city. His wife and son were slain as well.
Those deaths brought to seven the number of reporters killed so far this year in Mexico, according to Reporters Without Borders. They are yet another reminder of the spiraling violence that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels.
Mexico is now the deadliest country in the Americas for journalists, according to human rights groups. More than 30 reporters have been killed there since 2006. The government has established a special prosecutor for crimes against journalists. But the situation has not improved.
It's no surprise that Mexican journalists are showing up in Canada or the United States, requesting asylum. Among those is Emilio Gutierrez, who fled Chihuahua for New Mexico in 2008 after receiving death threats he attributed to his reporting on alleged abuses by the Mexican military. He has repeatedly spoken out about the violence in his homeland and recently filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights contending that the Mexican government is unable to stop the military from committing crimes against his countrymen.
Gutierrez's case, along with those of three other journalists currently in the U.S., remains in legal limbo, their applications stalled in an overburdened immigration court system or before asylum officers who have been slow to decide such claims. But these cases call for expedited attention. In the 1990s, officials approved asylum claims filed by Colombian journalists facing comparable threats, often in less than a year.
Winning asylum is hard, and it should be. Applicants must be prepared to prove that they have a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a group, and that their government is unable or unwilling to protect them from persecution.
Some anti-immigrant groups may fear that granting asylum to Mexican journalists will open the floodgates to others who will argue they are victims of narco violence. But there's no history to support that anxiety. In 2010, just over 160 asylum applications were approved — less than 3% of all asylum applications filed by Mexicans. Gutierrez and other Mexican journalists aren't asking for special treatment, just an opportunity to make their cases.