SPLC seeks justice for journalist facing deportation

SPLC client Manuel Duran, the Spanish-language journalist who was unlawfully arrested and detained in April in retaliation for reporting on controversial issues related to law enforcement in Tennessee, could be deported at any time.

Update: As of Nov. 15, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals postponed Manuel Duran’s removal for two weeks and agreed to consider the SPLC’s argument.

Duran has been detained for over seven months at LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana, after working as a reporter in Memphis, Tennessee, for more than 10 years. The SPLC took his case after he was placed in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody following his arrest by Memphis police.

After months of navigating court proceedings, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) denied Duran’s appeal on Oct. 17 to reopen his removal proceedings. The SPLC, on Duran’s behalf, is currently seeking a review of the BIA’s decision at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Deportation, however, could come at any time. 

“Manuel Duran is a journalist who was simply doing his job – reporting on the Memphis Police and ICE – when he was unlawfully arrested and summarily sent to a remote ICE detention center in retaliation for him exposing the truth,” said Michelle Lapointe, senior supervising attorney with the SPLC. “Manuel’s case is part of a disturbing pattern where ICE retaliates against those who report on and speak out about its policies and practices.” 

Duran was a respected reporter, writing for the Spanish-language publication he founded, Memphis Noticias. He was known for his investigative journalism that frequently highlighted issues of importance to Memphis’ Spanish-speaking community, including local law enforcement’s collaboration with ICE.

But now he is locked up.

‘Get him, guys’

On April 3, Duran was covering a Memphis event relating to the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. The demonstration included a protest of local law enforcement detaining suspected immigrants and handing them over to ICE.

During the event, Duran wore his yellow press badge and did not engage in the protest. He was following police orders to step away from the protesters when an officer pointed to him and yelled, “Get him, guys.”

Because his writing exposed ties between local police and ICE in detaining immigrants, Duran was singled out and arrested amid a pool of other journalists and falsely accused for disorderly conduct and obstructing traffic.

In handcuffs, Duran was taken to the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, where his bond was paid immediately and the charges against him were later dropped. The county, however, decided against releasing him. Instead, he was held for ICE. 

Two days later, ICE transported Duran to Jena, Louisiana.

“His arrest and detainment only show how the government has misplaced priorities,” said Melisa Valdez, Duran’s longtime girlfriend. “I find it extremely unfair that someone can be jailed indefinitely without having committed a crime, and I don’t see a reason why they would need to keep Manuel in a cage other than just plain malice.” 

“These past seven months have not been easy,” Duran said. “In these prisons, we are not treated as if we were human beings. We are treated like animals. They treat us like another number. We have at this moment too many corporations and millionaires investing in prisons, because they know that’s where the money is, and the inhumane treatment given to detainees doesn’t matter.”

Duran is like thousands of other undocumented immigrants facing deportation. Held captive in a crowded room, the cruel treatment they endure is often too much to bear.   

“It is exploitation,” Duran said. “When they took me to Louisiana, they treated me like a criminal. I was chained up. There are people here who have legal status, but because of a slight error, they have to go in front of an immigration judge. People here are suffering because they’ve gotten a traffic ticket. We’re not criminals.”

Despite arguments that confirm the conditions in Central America have materially worsened over the last decade – especially for anti-corruption journalists like Duran – Duran’s future appears bleak. Valdez finds it hard to articulate how defeated it feels to know the country has turned its back against Duran and her.