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First Amendment Victory: Investigative journalist Manuel Duran wins asylum

Manuel Duran, an investigative journalist who was detained after reporting on the collusion between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement in Memphis, Tennessee, has won his asylum case nearly four years after he was arrested.

Duran was arrested in April 2018 while covering a Memphis protest focused on local law enforcement’s practice of detaining suspected immigrants and handing them over to ICE. Duran was detained for 15 months.

“The positive resolution of my case today is a triumph in the fight to defend the First Amendment,” Duran said. “This victory is dedicated to all the journalists being persecuted in this moment, because no journalist should have to fear to do their job. El Salvador has been characterized as a country hostile to the press, especially during the Bukele administration.”

Duran’s case has received national attention as several organizations, focusing on the mistreatment of journalists around the world, filed amicus briefs on his behalf. Among them are the American Society of News Editors, Associated Press Media Editors, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, National Hispanic Media Coalition, PEN America and Reporters Without Borders. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center is part of the legal team that argued for Duran’s release from detention and for his asylum. The case included evidence of increasingly dangerous conditions faced by journalists in El Salvador, as well as those who publicly criticize the Salvadoran government.

“Manuel’s case has been a true team effort, anchored by him, his partner and her incredible family as well as by several lawyers across multiple time zones and advocates in Memphis, Atlanta and beyond,” said Gracie Willis, a senior lead attorney with the SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative. “The immigration courts don’t always do the right thing, so today’s victory was far from guaranteed.”

Willis continued: “Manuel endured so much to get to this point: an immigration detention system designed to force people to give up their cases by subjecting them to inhumane conditions, deportation attempts, and confronting repression of the press in his own hometown of Memphis. Manuel’s case is also a reminder that the vast majority of the more than 20,000 people in immigrant detention and the 1.5 million people in the immigration court backlog do not have access to this level of support, nor should it be required to win a case in an administrative agency. The path to this win reminds us of the need to end immigrant detention and reimagine our entire immigration court system. Still, today, after four arduous years, we can finally take a deep breath, knowing Manuel is safe.”

Casey Bryant, executive director of Advocates for Immigrant Rights, was lead counsel at the hearing in which Duran won asylum.

“I'm so honored to be a part of this litigation and to get to usher Manuel in the last lap of his very long journey seeking asylum in this country,” Bryant said. “The immigration judge noted that the First Amendment is one of the most cherished rights of this nation and thanked Manuel for his bravery in daring to report corruption in El Salvador. This was truly a group effort, with Manuel at the center, systematically laying his claim for asylum with his journalistic eloquence. He told me afterwards that he is now more empowered to fight for justice. As am I!”

Duran thanked both organizations for representing him in his fight for asylum. 

“I am grateful in my heart to my lawyers with Southern Poverty Law Center for your impeccable work since my fight to remain in this country began in April 2018, and to Advocates for Immigrant Rights for representing me in my asylum case,” he said.

Photo at top: Manuel Duran. (Credit: Billy Brown)