MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Spanish-language reporter who has been facing deportation since his arrest 15 months ago while covering an immigration protest in Tennessee was released Thursday from custody as his case proceeds.
Manuel Duran was released from an Alabama detention center on a $2,000 bail set by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Gracie Willis said.
"I feel like I'm reborn," Duran said in a statement released by the center. "I am happy for this day. It has been a very difficult time but thanks to God, this is the day I waited for."
The El Salvador native was arrested while covering an April 3, 2018, rally protesting immigration policies in Memphis. Protesters had blocked a street in front a downtown courthouse on the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr's assassination.
Protest-related charges were subsequently dropped, but Duran was picked up by immigration agents after he was released from jail and detained. He had been held in facilities in Louisiana and Alabama since his arrest.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said Duran was taken into custody because he had a pending deportation order from 2007 after failing to appear for a court hearing. Duran has said he did not receive a notice to appear in court with a time and date on it. Immigration activists and journalism organizations have spoken against his detention.
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
"We are certainly very excited for him to be released from detention," Willis said. "It's taken 15 months of very active litigation to get him here."
Duran is from El Salvador and he has lived in Memphis for years. He ran the Memphis Noticias online news outlet and reported on the effects of U.S. immigration policies on the Hispanic community. Duran's lawyers have said he came to the United States without permission in 2006 after receiving death threats related to reporting on corruption in El Salvador.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, said he was troubled Duran was arrested while covering a "legitimate public protest."
"He was a well-known journalist and I hope he wasn't targeted for that reason," Cohen said in a statement.
Memphis police have denied that Duran was targeted because of coverage that had been critical of law enforcement.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has granted Duran an indefinite stay from deportation as his case is argued. Willis said she will ask an immigration court in Atlanta for his next hearing to be moved to Memphis, where he was returning Thursday.