Southern Poverty Law Center steps in for a jailed Memphis journalist.

A new petition filed in federal court pleads for the release of Manuel Duran, the Hispanic journalist arrested at an immigration protest on April 3rd, who now faces deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed the petition last week and calls for the immediate release of Duran. The petition argues Duran's arrest and detention "were an effort to suppress his reporting and they violate his First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and the press, his Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful arrest and detention, and his due process rights."

"Manuel Duran is a journalist who was simply doing his job — reporting on the Memphis police and ICE — when he was unlawfully arrested and summarily sent to a remote ICE detention center in retaliation for him exposing the truth," said Michelle Lapointe, acting deputy legal director for SPLC. "We are seeking Mr. Duran's immediate release from detention. His unlawful arrest and unconstitutional detention only serve to silence free speech and press, and create more fear and mistrust of law enforcement in immigrant communities."

click to enlarge Duran arrested during a protest. - FACEBOOK
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  • Duran arrested during a protest.

Duran was a television reporter in El Salvador. He is now the owner of and reporter for Memphis Noticias, a Spanish-language newspaper here.

He was live-streaming an immigration protest Downtown earlier this month when he was arrested for obstructing a roadway along with many others. But charges against Duran were dropped and the case was dismissed.

"This office has dismissed misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction of a highway or passageway filed Tuesday against Manuel Duran," Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said in a statement on April 5th. "There was not sufficient evidence to go forward with prosecution. This ends any legal issues Mr. Duran has with this office."

But Duran was not released from the Shelby County Jail. While there, he was picked up by ICE officials and he was transported to the LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana, where he awaits a hearing before an immigration judge.

"The Memphis Police Department made an unjustified arrest and the Shelby County Sheriff's Office unjustly held Manuel," said Mauricio Calvo, executive director of Latino Memphis. "These actions were done at the expense of local tax payers and at a time when trust is needed more than ever within the community.

"Working with federal agencies that use our local tax dollars to house immigrants for non-criminal violations for longer than necessary undermines our city and county's autonomy to make decisions that make sense for us."

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) also called for Duran's release last week.

"The detention of Manuel and attempt to suppress his reporting is an outrage to our public's right to an independent and necessary press," said Brandon Benavides, NAHJ president.

The SPLC helped a Mississippi woman win release from ICE detention last year. The group stepped in when Daniela Vargas was arrested after speaking at a press conference in Jackson, Mississippi. She was released after the SPLC filed a petition that argued her right to freedom speech had been violated.

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