Manuel has been an ICE prisoner in four different jails, in two states, during the past year and has been about to be deported twice. In January, he had a bond hearing that was denied by an immigration judge. The judge’s reason for his decision was that he did not feel he had the authority to approve it, even though he agreed with the attorneys in their arguments.
On February 14, Manuel was transferred from LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Jena, Louisiana to Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama. A trip that took around 10 hours in a bus with metal seats and Manuel had to endure in shackles.
Etowah is a county jail that rents space to ICE and its prices are among the cheapest in the country. This long-term detention center is an all-male facility that houses about 300 immigration prisoners. It is described by lawyers, human rights defenders, and activists as one of the worst ICE facilities in the United States. The prisoners in this jail are kept indoors at all times and they have been without air conditioning for several weeks since Manuel arrived in mid-February. The food portions are too small and Manuel has lost weight in the past months. He relies heavily on anything he can buy through commissary.
On March 26, the Eleventh Circuit granted the government’s motion to remand Manuel’s case to the Board of Immigration Appeals. The BIA must now reconsider the manner in which it evaluated evidence that journalists like Manuel are being persecuted in El Salvador, as well as other claims for relief. This will likely mean more wait time for Manuel.
Manuel’s attorneys in Memphis, filed a lawsuit on Monday against the Memphis Police, Shelby County, and 8 individuals.
Today, Manuel, represented by attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center and Adelante Alabama Worker Center, filed a habeas petition in federal court in Alabama seeking his release from the infamous Etowah County Detention Center, arguing that his year-long detention has become so excessive and prolonged that it violates immigration law and the United States Constitution.
Although this fight has not been easy, it would have been impossible without the Southern Poverty Law Center and Latino Memphis. The attorneys at both organizations have never let go of Manuel’s hand. This experience has been long and very painful for Manuel, for our family, and for myself.
It has been a year of continuous torture since the arrest at the hands of the Memphis Police, which was unsupported by probable cause, and during the malicious detainment by ICE, who could allow Manuel to come back home but chooses not to.
Even so, I would like to leave you all with this message. We owe it to ourselves, our families and neighbors, to not keep quiet. We must tell our stories and the stories of those who cannot tell them. Even if they hurt. Because we are not alone and because we cannot allow that our families and neighbors disappear from our lives and our communities, taken to remote ICE jails, and keep quiet.
To finish, I will be reading a message written by Manuel from Etowah.
“April 5 will be a year since ICE took me into custody and marks the anniversary of the beginning for my battle to keep from being deported. A year separated from my family, my friends, and the community to which I owe myself as a journalist. On April 3, 2018, I left home, as I did every day, to cover a story and be able to bring it to the community as part of my responsibility as a news reporter. To my surprise, I was arrested for doing my job. My life took a dramatic turn on that day as this bad experience, which has brought suffering and uncertainty to my life, began. In spite of everything, I know that God is holding my hand and I have faith that everything will turn out well. Thank you all for your good wishes and prayers. See you soon.”