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Mexican Photojournalist Granted US Asylum

Photo by Mónica Ortiz Uribe

El Paso attorney Carlos Spector (center) with two Mexican journalist clients. Alejandro Hernandez Pacheco (right) is a cameraman from the state of Durango, and Ricardo Chavez (left) is a radio host from Ciudad Juárez.

The United States government has granted asylum to a Mexican photojournalist who fled his home state of Veracruz a year ago.

Miguel Angel Lopez Saldana worked as a photographer for the newspaper Notiver in the state's capital, Veracruz. He also shot photos for the Mexico City-based daily, La Jornada.

In June 2011, his father, a columnist who wrote about crime and politics for the same paper, was gunned down inside his home along with his wife and son.

After the murder of his parents and brother, Lopez Saldana's boss told him he could not guarantee his safety if he continued to work as a journalist. So Lopez Saldana left Veracruz and lived in Mexico City for a few months.

When he tried to return to Veracruz, colleagues told Lopez Saldana they'd received threats and that it was not safe for him to come back. Instead, Lopez Saldana and his wife applied for asylum in the United States.

A week later, authorities discovered the dismembered remains of three of his reporter colleagues in a sewage canal in Veracruz.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. The high level of impunity in Mexico means many serious crimes are never solved. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports 14 journalists were killed and 12 disappeared in Mexico between 2006 and 2012. Other organizations and government agencies cite higher numbers.

One of latest killings was that of 22-year-old Daniel Martínez Bazaldua, a photojournalist who worked in Satillo, Coahuila for the newspaper Vanguardia. His mutilated body was discovered in late April, a day after he went missing.

Since moving to the United States Lopez Saldana has worked in construction, at a tire shop and in a hotel.

His attorney, Carlos Spector in El Paso, Texas, has won asylum cases for two other Mexican journalists.

"Less than 2 percent of all Mexican asylum applicants are granted asylum and it's getting more and more difficult," Spector said.

Extreme drug violence in Mexico has forced many, including law enforcement officers and human rights activists, to flee. Spector said he has about 100 asylum cases pending. Only six have been approved.