Lawyers for a Memphis journalist say he was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and sent to a detention facility hundreds of miles away in Louisiana as retaliation for his critical reporting on law enforcement, the Associated Press reported on Monday.
According to court filings, Manuel Duran Ortega was covering an April 3 immigration protest planned to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death for the Spanish-language newspaper Memphis Noticias when officers arrested him on charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway. While those charges were later dropped and he was released from jail, he was picked by again shortly after, this time by ICE on immigration charges, and sent to a detention facility in Louisiana, where he remains in custody.
As the AP reports, both ICE and Duran’s attorney agree he was issued a deportation notice in 2007 after failing to appear at court, although Duran says he never received a notice to appear before a judge. Duran’s lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center allege his arrest was unlawful, and came as retaliation for reporting critically on local police and federal immigration authorities.
The Memphis Police Department maintains the arrest was lawful, and ICE said Duran has been an “immigration fugitive” for years.
“Mr. Duran Ortega was ordered removed from the United States by a federal immigration judge in January 2007 after failing to appear for his scheduled court date,” Bryan Cox, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement to the wire service. “He has been an immigration fugitive since that time. Mr. Duran Ortega is currently in ICE custody pending removal.”
If Duran is deported to his home country of El Salvador, he could face even worse persecution for being a journalist. Just this past weekend, a female magazine journalist who had been missing was found dead on a highway.
His arrest has also put a new sense of urgency into the issues he coverage, Duran told the AP:
Duran says the arrest and detention have given him an opportunity to see firsthand the issues he has been reporting on and the realities immigrant families are facing.
“No one should be deprived of their freedoms just for wanting a better future for their children,” a statement Duran issued from detention said. “This is a cruel system that criminalizes people who pose no danger to this country.”
Calling someone an “immigration fugitive” to make them seem like A Bad Guy is just one of ICE’s tactics to stoke fears about immigrants. Another tactic is silencing their critics by detaining and deporting activists, who would likely face worse persecution if deported to their home countries.
The idea that immigrants do not deserve to have the same human rights as other Americans—the right not to be persecuted for exercising free speech, for example—creeps closer into the mainstream every day.