NEW YORK—PEN America has joined a diverse coalition of media and free expression organizations in filing a new amicus brief on January 14 in support of journalist Manuel Duran Ortega’s appeal to the 11th Circuit. 

Manuel Duran Ortega, a Salvadoran citizen, journalist, and founder of Spanish-language news site Memphis Noticias who has lived and reported in Memphis for over a decade, was arrested in April 2018 while reporting on a local protest. Duran Ortega was wearing a press badge and was the only journalist arrested. While charges against Duran Ortega were quickly dropped, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested him immediately upon his release and initiated deportation hearings to return him to his native El Salvador.  Duran Ortega’s past reporting has included stories about the Memphis Police Department, including a previously-denied collaboration with ICE.  In November 2018, the court granted a temporary stay of his removal from the United States. However, the case is now on appeal before the Eleventh Circuit, and PEN America remains gravely concerned by the government’s continued efforts to deport him. 

“But for Duran Ortega doing his job as a reporter, he would possibly not be facing these legal challenges,” said James Tager, PEN America’s Deputy Director of Research and Policy. “The treatment of Duran Ortega sends a strong chilling message to those reporting on immigration issues and to reporters who are themselves immigrants: that merely doing their jobs may put them at risk. Such retaliation is a clear violation of Duran Ortega’s First Amendment rights.”

In July 2018, PEN America joined an amicus before the court, indicating the organization’s belief that there is substantial evidence indicating that the government’s conduct towards Duran Ortega was motivated by his critical reporting. In October, PEN America submitted a petition to ICE, signed by over 80,000 people, calling for Duran Ortega to be released from detention. In November 2018, PEN America joined another amicus supporting Duran Ortega’s Petition for Review before the Eleventh Circuit.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: [email protected]