Manuel Duran, the Memphis journalist who was released on bond last week after being detained for 15 months, said he’s seen firsthand the “disastrous effects” of President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policy and the “cruelty of the mass incarceration of immigrants.”
At a Wednesday press conference, Duran called these policies “unnecessary and inhumane.”
“I’ve witnessed firsthand the pain and suffering caused by family separation,” a translator said on behalf of Duran. “ICE is destroying our families for no reason. What is the purpose of these attacks on our communities?”
After Duran was arrested in April 2018 while covering an immigration protest for Memphis Noticias, the local Spanish-language newspaper he owns, the misdemeanor charges against him were dropped by the Shelby County District Attorney’s office, but Duran was then handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and sent to an ICE processing center in Jena, Louisiana.
Duran would then spend the next 450 days in four different detention centers. The most recent was the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama.
During his time detained, Duran said he’s seen “working men, men with businesses, men who have lived their whole lives in this country, who have committed no crimes, crying and longing to be reunited with their families.”
Duran said his experience in each of the detention facilities were similarly difficult. The conditions are “not adequate,” he said. The detention centers were infested with pests, cockroaches, and spiders, Duran said.
At Etowah, Duran said he and other inmates had to bathe with water hoses in “very cold water,” and that the temperature in the facility wasn’t well-regulated.
“The air conditioner was under repair for most of the spring and we had to endure very high temperatures,” Duran said. “At Etowach, for weeks, for no reason, the heater was turned on to its full capacity. This happened during the summer and it was very difficult to sleep.”
In addition, Duran says detainees don’t have access to the outdoors or recreational spaces and are “locked up without being able to see the sunlight.”
Duran also noted that on two occasions, inmates were denied phone use for days at a time without being given an explanation.
He said prisoners aren’t served a substantial amount of food and the only way to get additional food is from the center’s commissary.
However, Duran said many of the inmates go hungry because they don’t have the financial support of their families or don’t have any family in the country.
“This experience has been very difficult for me and my family, psychologically and economically,” Duran said. “I feel that my life has turned 180 degrees and I’m still trying to adapt.”
Gracie Willis, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Duran’s next step is to file an asylum application. She said the court hearing for that is likely to be scheduled for the immigration court in Atlanta, but the SPLC will try to have it moved to Memphis so Manuel can “fight his case closer to home.”
Mauricio Calvo, executive director of Latino Memphis, said Duran’s case is unique in that he had legal resources and community support.
“But this is not the norm,” Calvo said. “There are thousands and thousands of families around the country and here in Shelby County that are being separated every single day. It is happening here. Our ICE office is fully staffed and they are kicking doors every single day and racially profiling people for no other reason than political purposes.”
Calvo said people are being detained without judicial orders and “they are taking people’s rights away.”
“We’re not going to stop,” Calvo said. “We’re extremely excited that Manuel is here, but the battle is not over. We’re not going to stop until this American value of freedom, dignity, respect, and the chance at the American dream is the prevailing factor for most people.”