How does someone go from being perceived as an asset to this country to someone who is quickly disposable? This is the question I ask myself in light of journalist Mario Guevara’s case and following José Antonio Vargas’ coming out as undocumented last year.
Technically, Guevara is now undocumented. He came on a tourist visa and served this country as a reputable journalist. He filed for political asylum and was in immigration limbo for seven years. Now, having been denied asylum, he is in danger of being deported to his home country of El Salvador where he fears for his life and that of his family’s.
His case, while very different from José Antonio Vargas’, is reminiscent of what it means to contribute to the U.S. as a journalist and points out the failures of the U.S. immigration system. It also shows the power of the media, which Guevara used to publicize his story and halt his deportation.
As the most well-known immigration journalist in Atlanta, Georgia, he exposed corruption within immigration prisons and courts, reported from the U.S.-Mexico border, and told the stories of immigrants who had been unjustly targeted or penalized.
Guevara now finds himself in a different seat. After waiting seven years, he was denied political asylum on June 21st, at which point he and his family were given 60 days to pack up and leave. In an interview with La Opinión he said: “Atlanta is the region of the country where cases of political asylum are most denied. Even though I knew that, I did not want to leave or lie because I knew my case was legitimate. But even so, they didn’t do me justice.”
In 2004, Guevara sent his wife, Miriam, and daughter, Katherine, to Georgia and followed a few months after on a tourist visa. He later applied for political asylum in September 2005, 18 months after he arrived to the U.S., a delayed filing since asylum applicants are required to do so 12 months after arriving. Yet, Guevara had reasons for his delay in filing the application, including extreme stress from the dangers he faced in El Salvador and the cultural shock of leaving his country for a new one–conditions which were later diagnosed as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
When Guevara, 34, spoke to the judge at his court hearing, he was told that, apart from his delay in filing, there was no danger in returning to El Salvador because within the last 24 months there hadn’t been reports of attacks on journalists, there was no war, and because it was now a democratic country.
Guevara reports being beaten up by leftist groups in his native El Salvador that threatened to kill him and his family if he didn’t stop reporting for La Prensa Gráfica.
Francisco Campos, Guevara’s former photography editor and boss at La Prensa Gráfica, spoke to the threats Guevara faced in an affidavit:
“I have supervised many photojournalists during my career, and in occasions have heard of threats made from similar groups. Mario’s situation was much more serious in tone, this is why it still fresh in my mind. The life threats were real.”
“The threats in El Salvador do not have an expiration date. I have enemies there. On top of everything, I have two kids who are American citizens and another that is entering adolescence. The last thing I want is for them to be plunged into a world of gangs.”
Guevara’s family has ties to this country. In addition to his two U.S. born children, Jonathan and Oscar, his mother is a naturalized U.S. citizen, and his brother is a veteran who served in Afghanistan.
Now he is using what he knows best, the media, to get his story out. After reaching out to his newspaper, Mundo Hispánico, and publishing his story there, as well as collecting signatures for a petition created by Latinos Unidos del Condado de Carroll asking the president to halt his deportation, immigration officials suspended his case since he qualified for prosecutorial discretion. This meant that ICE would not deport him, his wife, or his daughter but it did not necessarily mean that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would grant him a work permit to allow him to continue reporting.
Guevara‘s lawyer, Byron Kirkpatrick, said that he will file an appeal on the asylum request.
In addition, Guevara points out another immigration struggle with the law when he went to renew his work permit. His wife was denied hers and therefore lost her driver’s license. She was soon arrested for driving without a license. Guevara said:
“They almost deported her. They arrested her in front of my children and were going to send her to an immigration prison. I spent hours convincing them to check the system so they could see that we already had a deportation order and that we were allowed to stay here until the date indicated.”
“It rips off my heart to think his family might be fragmented or impoverished, trapped in between two systems which have failed them: one being their native country’s judicial system, and the other the immigration system in the country they decided to adopt as their own.”