Lawyers ask for release of journalist held by ICE on arrest anniversary

Lawyers for a journalist who is being held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody filed a petition asking for his immediate release on Wednesday.

"He is entitled to immediate release or, alternatively, an individualized bond hearing to assess the necessity and legality of his continued detention, at which the government bears the burden of proving that he is a flight risk or a danger to the community," the petition said. 

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Lawyers for Memphis-based reporter Manuel Duran Ortega argued that his continued detention violates his right to due process and the Immigration and Nationality Act. 

"In the immigration context, the Supreme Court has recognized only two valid purposes for civil detention—to mitigate the risks of danger to the community and to prevent flight," the court petition said.

"Because Mr. Duran Ortega’s ongoing deprivation of liberty is not sufficiently related to either of these purposes, and because he has not been afforded the necessary procedural safeguards, his detention violates due process."

Duran Ortega was arrested by local police on April 3, 2018, while covering a protest, according to the petition. The charges against him were dropped, but he was taken into ICE custody two days later.

An ICE spokesman told Newsweek a day after Duran Ortega's arrest that the agency had detained him for being an "unlawfully present El Salvadoran national."

The spokesman also told the publication that a federal immigration judge had ordered his deportation in January 2017 but that the journalist did not appear for a scheduled court appearance.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said in a statement that  "a year after his arrest, and despite court rulings that he is likely to succeed in his claims for relief from deportation, Duran still finds himself detained by ICE and separated from his family."  

In a statement, Duran Ortega said his continued detention had been difficult on him.

"I have been detained a year and regrettably, due to the circumstances of detention, it has not been easy for me," Duran Ortega said in a statement. "Being detained has affected me psychologically because the process is so uncertain, and I don’t know if I will get out soon or if it will take more time. I miss my work and I miss being able to help my community, as this gave me a lot of satisfaction."

Wednesday's filing came on the anniversary of his initial arrest. 

ICE spokesman Bryan D. Cox declined to comment directly on the legal filing but said in a statement that "Duran-Ortega was ordered removed from the United States by a federal immigration judge and none of his legal appeals have resulted in vacating that removal order." 

"Duran-Ortega currently remains in ICE custody pursuant to a final order of removal issued by the federal immigration courts," he added. 

Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor the Justice Department immediately responded to requests for comment from The Hill. 

—Updated at 6:10 p.m.