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SPLC seeks release of detained journalist whose work challenged ICE, a year after he was arrested

Memphis journalist Manuel Duran filed a habeas petition yesterday, seeking his immediate release from detention. 

Duran is represented in his petition by the SPLC and Adelante Alabama Worker Center, an organization that defends the rights of immigrant workers. Duran was unlawfully arrested and detained on April 3, 2018, while covering a protest of Memphis law enforcement’s practice of detaining suspected immigrants and handing them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Duran’s arrest was in retaliation for reporting on controversial issues related to law enforcement in Tennessee. His previous investigative reporting exposed local law enforcement to scrutiny for their treatment of immigrant community members, including their collusion with ICE and its negative impact on communities in Memphis.

A year after his arrest, and despite court rulings that he is likely to succeed in his claims for relief from deportation, Duran still finds himself detained by ICE and separated from his family.

Duran continues to fight for his release. Yesterday, he filed, together with attorneys for the SPLC and Adelante Alabama Worker Center, a habeas petition in federal court in Alabama, seeking release from the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama. The petition argues that his detention has become so prolonged and excessive that it violates immigration laws and the Constitution.

“I have been detained a year and regrettably, due to the circumstances of detention, it has not been easy for me,” Duran said yesterday from the detention center. “Being detained has affected me psychologically because the process is so uncertain, and I don’t know if I will get out soon or if it will take more time. I miss my work and I miss being able to help my community, as this gave me a lot of satisfaction.”

Duran was detained after working as a reporter in Memphis for a decade. The SPLC took his case, along with attorneys at Latino Memphis, after he was taken into ICE custody following his arrest by Memphis police in April 2018.

In November 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit granted Duran a stay of removal. Before the stay was granted, Duran could have been deported to his native El Salvador.

Last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court granted the government’s motion to send Duran’s case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which hears appeals of immigration judges’ decisions. The BIA must now reconsider the manner in which it evaluated evidence that journalists like Duran are being persecuted in El Salvador, as well as Duran’s other claims for relief.  

“Manuel’s case undeniably highlights an immigration system designed to punish and discourage immigrants seeking relief under the law,” said Gracie Willis, an SPLC attorney. “Manuel is just one of thousands of immigrants who have contributed extensively to their communities in the United States only to find themselves abruptly imprisoned with little recourse.”                                                                                                  

Willis said that Duran’s prolonged detention is “unjust, unreasonable, and a waste of resources. It is a prime example of a deportation system where noncitizens with valid claims for relief, and who demonstrate strong ties to the community, are nevertheless held in indefinite detention as a method of dissuading them from pursuing their claims. In fact, ICE could, at any time, release Duran from detention.”    

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

Photo by Andrea Morales