After Mexican drug cartel members were unable to extort a $10,000 a month bribe out of Carlos Gutierrez, they chopped off his feet. Gutierrez and his family fled Mexico and they applied for asylum in the United States. He was considered to be a low priority case and legally allowed to stay. Now, Gutierrez has another battle– one that crosses emotional boundaries and physical terrain. He will strap on prosthetic legs and ride his bike from El Paso, Texas to Austin to raise awareness that Mexicans are not gaming the system when they apply for asylum.
Asylee applications have come under intense scrutiny since it’s hard to prove “credible fear of persecution or torture.” Sen. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said asylum seeker from Mexico are “just gaming our system, knowing that they can get here and milk the system for years with no consequences.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) echoed that opinion, saying that true Mexican asylum cases are “highly unusual and often are an orchestrated sham.”
For people like Gutierrez who is in the country legally, the prospects of obtaining asylum has very real implications. The U.S. government can still reopen his asylum case or revoke his legal status at any time. If he is sent back to Mexico, he will likely face more torture and death, like countless other Mexicans who have been deported back to dangerous cartel territory.
On Tuesday, a U.S. immigration judge denied asylum to a Mexican woman whose two sons were killed only weeks after they went back to Mexico. She will be deported back and may face the same fate as her children even as she “was advised by family members to return to Dallas for her own safety.” In another incident, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) forced a woman to return to Mexico to a violent ex-boyfriend. She was found dead in a burning vehicle less than a week after she was sent back.
And while the death toll due to the Mexican drug cartel continues to rise beyond 60,000, the number of asylum visas dispensed to Mexican nationals increased by 19 asylum visas between 2011 to 2012. In 2012, the Department of Justice only granted asylum to 126 out of 9,206 Mexican asylum seekers, which hardly shows that asylees are abusing the system, per some commentator accusations.
Between October and November, Gutierrez will take up a 670-mile “Pedaling for Justice” bike ride to raise awareness of the serious and physical torments that asylees have to endure in Mexico.
The ride is a test of personal endurance. “I am aware that it is going to be a very hard and long journey,” he said, his voice breaking. “But I am confident that I am going to make it. It is a challenge, and challenges are to be overcome.”
And while there is also an influx of asylum applicants from Latin American countries, including El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, applicants from countries outside Latin America, like China and Ethiopia, were granted the greatest number of asylum requests.
Ultimately, Gutierrez wants people to know that “even though [Mexican drug cartels] hurt and wound you, to the point that you don’t want to live anymore, or to be in this world, you don’t want to continue with your life, and me with God’s help, I have been able to overcome this process and move forward.”