US customs detains activist

October 18, 2009 7:34:44 AM PDT
A Mexican human rights official is in U.S. customs detention apparently for his safety after reporting 170 instances in which Mexican soldiers allegedly tortured, abused or killed innocent people while deployed in Chihuahua. Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson was taken into custody Thursday night by Customs and Border Protection agents who apparently want him to seek political asylum for his safety, a highly unusual move, according to Carlos Spector, his attorney, the El Paso Times reported Saturday.

Two weeks ago, Hickerson said he had documentation of 170 instances in which Mexican soldiers extorted, kidnapped, tortured, beat or killed innocent people while based in the state of Chihuahua to control the violence that has gripped it since 2008.

Hickerson, who has worked for the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission for more than four years and has been an advocate for human rights for 37 years, said none of the abuse cases were being prosecuted by the Mexican government. He also said that he was afraid for his safety and that of his family.

The newspaper report did not indicate if it had tried to contact the Mexican military for comment.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa said in a statement Saturday that Hickerson was in custody due to "mandatory detention provisions and will be afforded all rights and procedures allowed" under U.S. laws.

Spector said his client was crossing at the Santa Fe Port of Entry on Thursday night to visit friends in El Paso when officers recognized him as a human rights activist and questioned him. Spector said the border officials asked Hickerson if he was afraid to be in Mexico because of his work. Spector said Hickerson told the agents he was afraid but that he did not want asylum.

Spector said the border officials told him the agency's policy was to conduct a "credible fear interview" when an immigrant tells agents that he is afraid for his safety. Spector said his client has violated no law and that it seemed as if federal officials wanted him to seek political asylum then later deny it.

"It just doesn't make any sense. The only humanitarian act DHS has is to lock up people," Spector said.

"He didn't want political asylum," Spector said. "He wants to continue working for the Human Rights Commission."

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