El Paso(Texas): Carlos Gutierrez passed out as the large blade cut through his legs, punishment for his refusal to pay a Mexican gang extortion fees from his successful catering business. He spent two weeks in critical condition and sought asylum in the US, as soon as he was able.
Now he faces long odds on getting approval to stay in the US, but Gutierrez has been staging an unusual demonstration to call attention to his plight and to the thousands of other Mexicans who seek asylum in the US each year from drug cartel violence.
Gutierrez has been riding his bicycle through Texas using his prosthetic legs, talking to everyone he meets.
"If someone from Cuba or from Venezuela can get asylum, why not someone from Mexico?" said Gutierrez, who spent nearly two weeks on his 1,300 kilometer bicycle trek.
US law allows asylum for those who have credible fear of persecution based on their race, religion, national origin, political status or membership in a particular social group.
But Mexican asylum seekers have struggled to convince US courts they fit in any of these categories, with approval rates running at 1 to 2 per cent. By contrast, more than a fourth of immigrants from other Latin American countries such as Colombia and Venezuela were granted asylum last year. Many can cite ethnic or political grounds.
Since he hopped on his bicycle on October 28, Gutierrez has been making his case for change. His journey ended yesterday.
The 35-year-old endured rain, strong winds, flat tires and fatigue. On the fifth day, a prosthetic specialist met him to adjust his legs because he was bruising and blistering.
"There were times when we thought it`d be best to have him rest, to drive him to the next town to let his legs recover, but he`d say, `No,`" said Jaqueline Armendariz, a member of the support team. "He has a mission."
The US Executive Office for Immigration Review did not specifically comment on Gutierrez`s case. However, immigration judges have acknowledged in court that asylum cases based on fear of crime or violence are difficult to make.
"I believe everything you just told me," immigration Judge Stephen Ruhle told a Mexican applicant at a recent hearing in which the man described being targeted by corrupt police officers for extortion money. "But asylum is not applicable to cases like yours."
Some scholars have argued that many applicants should qualify under a looser definition of "social group." A 2010 report by the United Nations` High Commissioner for Refugees said people who, on principle, refuse to pay extortion could be considered a group.
Other experts say the threats to individuals have evolved since asylum categories were defined in treaties after World War II.