ICE-detained Memphis journalist’s asylum case to reopen after 15 months

By Sharon Dunten, executive editor,

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis journalist, Manuel Duran, who publishes the Spanish-language online news outlet Noticias Memphis, was arrested over 15 months ago by U.S. Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE) officials is having his asylum claim reopened by the Board of Immigration Appeals soon. He was arrested by local enforcement while he was covering a Memphis immigration protest rally in April 3, 2018, and subsequently later arrested by ICE.

The original charges were later dropped against Duran in regard to the protest rally, but he was taken into ICE custody directly afterward. He has been held in both Louisiana and later in the Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama.

“Mr. Duran’s detention is a flagrant violation of press freedom.”

J. Alex Tarquinio, president of the Society of Professional Journalists; freelance journalist
J. Alex Tarquinio

“Whatever their immigration status, (they) should never be detained in this country because of their reporting,” said SPJ National President J. Alex Tarquinio.

The Society of Professional Journalists, along with several other journalism organizations including American Society of News Editors, Associated Press Media Editors, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, National Hispanic Media Coalition, PEN America, and Reporters Without Borders, filed an amicus brief on Duran’s behalf.  

These press freedom organizations, including SPJ, have argued that Duran’s arrest was in retaliation for reporting on controversial issues related to Tennessee law enforcement.

His many years of reporting in Memphis covers the effects of U.S. immigration policies on the city’s Hispanic community and investigates a possible collusion between ICE and local enforcement to detain suspected immigrants and then hand them over to federal authorities.

Manual Duran is journalist for Memphis Noticias and has been detained by U.S. Immigration Custom Enforcement for over 15 months. SPLC photo

Duran, originally from El Salvador, fled fled his country in 2006 after receiving death treats related to reporting on corruption in the country. He is facing deportation back to El Salvador.

“Mr. Duran has covered the Spanish-speaking community in Memphis for over a decade,” Tarquinio said. “To force him back to El Salvador, where threats have been made on his life, would be inhumane and unjust.”

His attorneys said Manuel’s detention violates current immigration law but are also grateful to have his case reopened. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year recognized evidence of increasingly dangerous conditions faced by journalists in El Salvador as part of Duran’s claim for asylum.

Gracie Willis

“We are incredibly pleased that Mr. Duran will finally have his asylum claim heard and may be reunited with his family,” said SPLC Attorney Gracie Willis in a Southern Poverty Law Center press release.

“We have long argued that his detention was unjust, unreasonable and a waste of resources.”

Gracie Willis, Southern Poverty Law Center attorney

Willis said it is disturbing that so many individuals continue to be held in remote overcrowded immigration jails throughout the country and more jails have to be built.

“I am satisfied today to receive this good news,” said Duran in a press release from SPLC. “I have received so much bad news during this process, and this is the first good news.”

“Now, I am hopeful that things will continue to go well and I can soon be free. As always, I am grateful to those who have helped me.”

Mauel Duran, Memphis journalist for Memphis Noticias
Hagit Limor

SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund Committee Chair Hagit Limor said it has been sad to follow Duran’s case. “Freedom of the press has been a landmark of our nation,” said Limor. “It has been tragic to follow the case of this journalist [Duran] held for more than a year in an immigration purgatory, separated from his family primarily because he covered a story about local police handing over suspected immigrants to federal immigration authorities.”

A date for the hearing has not been set.

Sharon Dunten is the executive editor of and assistant regional director of the Society of Professional Journalists – Region 3. She is a freelance journalist and photojournalist based out of Atlanta, Ga.

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