Spanish-language journalist released after 15 months in ICE custody: 'I feel like I’m reborn'

Manuel Duran’s arrest over a year ago. To the right are advocates who had been trying to tell police that he was a journalist.

After 15 months in federal immigration custody, Manuel Duran is finally free. The Spanish-language journalist had been jailed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement since April 2018, when he was arrested by Memphis police while covering a demonstration against local law enforcement’s collusion with mass deportation agents. While “protest-related charges were subsequently dropped,” The Washington Post reported, he’d remained under threat of deportation since.

“The Board of Immigration Appeals reopened Duran’s case this week. Lawyers are seeking asylum, arguing that conditions have worsened for journalists in El Salvador and he could be in danger if he returns. The immigration board acknowledged that conditions for reporters have changed for the worse in Duran’s home country since his initial deportation order, Willis said.” While Duran’s case remains ongoing, he’s finally back home in Memphis. “I feel like I’m reborn,” he said following his Thursday release.

Advocates say Duran’s deportation wasn’t just an effort to kick him out of the country, it was an attempt to shut him up. “Duran’s paper has published a number of articles critical of ICE,” Media Matters said last year, and on the day of his arrest he was covering a protest against policies where local law enforcement hold undocumented immigrants for ICE to arrest. The Southern Poverty Law Center had petitioned for his release, “saying that his ‘arrest and detention were an effort to suppress his reporting.’”

Duran had been jailed at Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, “routinely identified by lawyers, advocates and detainees as one of the worst ICE facilities in the United States,” The Guardian reported last year. Alex Matheus, a former detainee, said that “I spoke to one [officer] and the guy said, my job is basically to make your life miserable. He told me that straight to my face.” In total, the SPLC said Duran spent 465 days detained.

There could be hope for Duran’s case, but it’s also a reality that federal immigration agents routinely target and surveil their critics. This is an out-of-control agency, and Duran deserves his chance to stay here. “We are thrilled that Manuel will finally be reunited with his family and community,” said attorney Gracie Willis. “While Manuel’s release is cause for celebration, we are reminded that his struggle over the last 15 months is an indictment of an immigration system clearly designed to force immigrants seeking relief under the law to give up on their meritorious cases.”

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