Manuel Duran could be deported for doing journalism



Wikimedia Commons

When a protest erupted in downtown Memphis over the detention of undocumented immigrants, reporter Manuel Duran was there to cover it. While some activists chained themselves to each other and others blocked a highway, Duran kept livestreaming for Spanish language newspaper Las Noticias, as any journalist would.

Duran was arrested when he refused to comply with an order to clear the streets and continued filming the protest, even though two people who witnessed his arrest said that he identified himself to police as a journalist. Charges against him were thankfully dropped and a judge dismissed his case, but instead of being released from Shelby County jail, he was transferred to another jail run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Since then, he has remained in ICE custody in Louisiana, where he could be deported to El Salvador at any time. His case supposedly stems from a deportation order filed in 2007, but Duran's legal team said he never received notice to go to immigration court in connection with the case.

He has now been detained for months without charge, and his lawyers say it is in retribution for his reporting on ICE.

Duran has been living in the United States for over a decade, since he fled from El Salvador after his life was threatened. His life is here, and this is his community. He has worked for Memphis publication Las Noticias for years, where he has done important reporting exposing ties between local police and ICE and covered immigration detention.

Duran’s attorneys say it is precisely this critical reporting that led law enforcement to target him. "The actions pursued by government officials in this case threaten core First Amendment freedoms that are essential to our democracy: the right to criticize and expose the actions of government officials, and the right of members of the press to write and publish about them," a legal filing by Duran’s attorneys states.

Duran wrote a statement from behind bars, which was read by his girlfriend at a press event in Memphis on April 16. “This episode in my life has not been easy, but I have taken it as an opportunity to learn first hand the drama and reality that our families are living when they are arrested by immigration and then deported,” it reads. “This is a cruel system that criminalizes people who pose no danger to this country.”

Freedom of the Press Foundation joins advocacy group Free Press in condemning Duran’s detention, and has signed a petition calling for his release.

“The First Amendment guarantees a free press. That means that reporters like Duran can not be subject to censorship by the government, nor can government use any measures to prevent the expression of ideas before they are published, or to punish reporters for doing their job. Prior restraint by any official means is clearly unconstitutional,” the petition reads.

You can also sign on to the petition here.

Duran’s ongoing detention is unconscionable, yet has received little attention from national media outlets. And although press freedom issues—for example, President Trump’s disparaging tweets—are frequently given coverage by a wide range of news organizations, Duran’s story and its chilling implications have been largely absent, even though it is a direct threat to undocumented journalists around the country.

Duran is’t the only journalist that could be deported by ICE. Emilio Gutierrez Soto left Mexico in 2008 with his son and sought asylum in United States after a source informed him that he was on a “hit list” due to his reporting on the military. Over a decade later, his asylum application has been denied—even though Gutierrez still believes he will be killed if he is forced to return to Mexico.

Duran and Gutierrez are in the United States because sometimes brave and uncompromising journalism comes at great personal cost.

Duran was arrested for doing his job. His work is an immeasurably valuable public service, and critical coverage of law enforcement, particularly cruel agencies like ICE, has never been more important. The United States cannot call itself a bastion of press freedom when it retaliates against journalists by threatening to rip them from their communities.

Donate to support press freedom

Your support is more important than ever.

Read more about Journalism

The intersections of press freedom and the environment

Journalists, experts speak about threats faced by environmental journalists in honor of World Press Freedom Day

Student journalist covering protests: ‘We have to do it’

Students reporting on campus protests have First Amendment rights — and they’re being violated over and over

Report highlights need for journalists to push back when stonewalled

News readers need to know when the government withholds information from them