Manuel Duran Ortega is a Salvadorian immigrant journalist living in Memphis, Tennessee who has helped to uncover and expose connections between the Memphis Police and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Duran Ortega established a website called Memphis Noticias, where he publicized his articles and investigations. His supporters believe his critical reporting about ICE and police abuses led to his arrest and 15-month-long detention by ICE.
As James Goodman recounts in his March 22, 2019 Progressive story about Duran Ortega’s case, in April of 2018, Memphis Noticias posted a video of a woman who was arrested by local police and then later was detained by ICE. In the video he posted of the woman being arrested, Duran Ortega observed that “there has been three confirmed cases that the Memphis police are involved with immigration and that this is obviously a collaboration.” The journalist was soon contacted by the police department about taking the video down, but he refused.
Duran Ortega published many other stories about wrongdoing by the Memphis police and ICE. Another story he spotlighted in 2018 was about the bungled police investigation into the death of “Bardomiano Perez Hernandez, a thirty-three-year-old Mexican immigrant whose body had been left in the back of an impounded van for forty-nine days.” Duran Ortega wrote a series of articles about the mishandling of the case and about why the van containing his body sat in a police impound lot for so long before being discovered.
About a year after these publications, Duran Ortega was covering a protest when he was arrested along with many others for “disorderly conduct and obstructing a passageway.” After he was released, he was immediately taken into ICE custody. Memphis police report about the incident says he was arrested was because of “his dangerous refusal to get out of the road and how his identification card was not at hand.” But when a video of the incident was released, Duran Ortega was shown wearing a press badge like many other journalists who were present. The disorderly conduct charges against him were eventually dropped.
However, ICE still began deportation proceeding against him while holding him at various ICE detention centers. Duran Ortega’s wife continued to write stories for the Memphis Noticias and posted regular updates about her husband’s case. Journalist groups, including the American Society of News Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Hispanic Media Coalition, spoke out on his behalf. A Twitter hashtag, #FreeManuelDuran, was created by PEN America. Then, on July 11, 2019, after 15 months in ICE custody, Duran Ortega was released on bond. The Board of Immigration Appeals has ordered immigration officials to reopen Duran Ortega’s case and to reconsider his application for asylum.
Duran Ortega’s attorney, Jeremy Jong, believes the independent journalist was targeted for his reporting despite denials by the Memphis police. Jong said that he “sees cases from all over the country where activists who speak out against ICE are being arrested.”
The independent press has given Manuel Duran Ortega’s story, and his claim that he was targeted by ICE, consistent, detailed and comprehensive coverage. By contrast, the corporate news media have largely ignored his case. Newsweek and The Hill did give the case some coverage but their reports left out crucial facts about Duran Ortega’s work prior to his ICE detention contained in the Progressive article.
James Goodman, “The Silencing of Manuel Duran Ortega.” Progressive, March 22, 2019, https://progressive.org/dispatches/the-silencing-of-manuel-duran-ortega-goodman-190322/.
Rachel Frazin, “Journalist Held by ICE Speaks: ‘Without a Doubt’ I Was Targeted For My Work.” The Daily Beast, July 11, 2018, https://www.thedailybeast.com/journalist-held-by-ice-speaks-without-a-doubt-i-was-targeted-for-my-work.
David Hudson, “The Case of Manuel Duran Ortega Deserves Close Examination.” Freedom Forum Institute, December 5, 2018, https://www.freedomforuminstitute.org/2018/12/05/the-case-of-manuel-duran-ortega-deserves-close-examination/.
Student Researcher: Michelle Melara (Indian River State College)
Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)