A businessman who had his feet chopped off by gangsters in northern Mexico began a 700-mile long bike ride from El Paso, Texas to Austin this week.
Carlos Gutierrez wants the U.S. government to do more for Mexican citizens who have had to flee drug violence at home and are currently seeking asylum in the U.S.
“The objective is to raise awareness about the situation that Mexicans are going through,” Gutierrez told Univision.
“We need political asylum, because there is a war going on [in Mexico] and we need protection.”
Gutierrez is one of thousands of Mexican citizens currently applying for asylum in the U.S. He ran a successful catering business in Mexico’s Chihuahua state but was forced to flee his home after criminals kidnapped him, threatened his family and chopped off his feet because he had failed to pay “taxes” to a local gang.
The U.S. provides asylum to people who can prove that they are being persecuted because of their religious beliefs, their ethnic background or because they belong to a certain social or political group.
But Gutierrez and thousands of other drug war victims do not neatly fit into these categories, as they are simply being threatened by cartels who want to squeeze money from them.
This means that most asylum applications from drug war victims are denied, even as the number of applicants grows.
As the New York Daily News points out in a recent article, 23,000 Mexicans asked for asylum in the U.S. in the first nine months of this year, quadrupling the number of asylum requests that were made in 2009.
Less than 10 percent of these applications are successful, the Daily News reports.
Gutierrez says that he is currently in a state of “legal limbo,” as he has been granted a temporary work permit, but does not know how long he can stay in the U.S.
With his artificial limbs, he will pedal for 13 days from El Paso to Austin, where he will lead a rally on behalf of Mexican refugees.
“It wasn’t my decision to be here,” Gutierrez told Univision. “But I have learned a strong lesson, even if the most tragic thing happens to you in life, you can always overcome that tragedy.”
You can watch a short documentary on Gutierrez and his journey at Univision.com.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.