‘I need to make something out of this’: Immigration activist returns following detention, deportation

  • The Western Mass Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice held a rally Sunday at Pulaski Park in Northampton. The event coincided with the Jewish High Holy Day tradition of Tashlich, where sins are symbolically cast off into a body of water, which in this case was represented by a model of the Rio Grande border between the U.S. and Mexico. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener of Temple Israel in Greenfield, blows the Shofar, a traditional Ram™s horn played during the Jewish High Holy Days, to kick off an immigration rights rally held by the Western Mass Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice Sunday at Pulaski Park in downtown Northampton. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Immigration activist Eduardo Samaniego speaks at an immigration rights rally Sunday in Pulaski Park in Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Immigration Activist Eduardo Samaniego talks about his experience being detained by ICE and the rampant mistreatment of immigrants in detainment facilities during an immigration rights rally held by the Western Mass Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice at Pulaski Park Sunday in downtown Northampton. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Immigration Activist Eduardo Samaniego puts a finishing touch onto a symbolic bridge across the Southern Border during an immigration justice rally held by the Western Mass Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice Sunday at Pulaski Park in Northampton. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

Staff Writer
Published: 9/12/2021 8:56:20 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A Sunday rally focusing on immigration justice issues from a Jewish perspective was host to a special guest: Eduardo Samaniego, who has returned to the Pioneer Valley after being deported to Mexico in 2019.

“I really appreciate the honor to be here with you,” Samaniego said.

Samaniego, a prominent Pioneer Valley immigrant rights activist and undocumented immigrant, was deported after he was detained for three months by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, following an arrest in Georgia for not paying a cab fare after forgetting his wallet. Samaniego described the conditions of his detention as torturous.

“I didn’t know how horrendous the treatment of immigrants was until I was at their mercy,” Samaniego said.

Samaniego said he was subject to scalding hot showers, was placed in solitary confinement for what he calculated was a month and a half, and was given milk that had mold inside the cartons.

He also said that he would be put in solitary after complaining about the authorities detaining children, and he likened the actions of ICE to the notorious Nazi secret police the Gestapo.

After more than two years in Mexico, Samaniego was admitted to the United States last week, and will now need to go before a judge as he seeks a humanitarian visa.

“I’m just hoping for a good judge,” Samaniego said.

While at the border, Samaniego said he was threatened with detention again before being allowed to cross, and during his time waiting he saw a family separated at the border, with an uncle allowed to cross while his niece was detained.

Samaniego said that a date hasn’t been set yet for him to come before a judge, and he’s staying in the Pioneer Valley while he waits.

“I would feel safest here,” he said.

He also said it matters that the Valley has communities that have chosen to become sanctuary cities.

“I’m just glad we did that,” Samaniego said.

He also expressed hope that immigration reform will stay in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill currently before Congress.

The event at Pulaski Park that Samaniego spoke at was organized by Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice of Western Massachusetts.

“Jews know what it means when people are rounded up and put behind barbed wire,” said Alice Levine, a founder of the group.

Levine shared how some Jewish families in Nazi Europe sent their children away to save their lives, and how Jewish refugees were sometimes sent back to Nazi Europe to their deaths.

“Never again para nadie,” Levine said. “Never again for anyone.”

The event also included a ritual where activists stood on two sides of a river, one representing the United States and the other representing Mexico. The names of some of the people who had drowned in the Rio Grande trying to reach the United States were read aloud, after which a “wall” of bricks on the United States side was turned into a bridge.

The event also highlighted the opening of The 45,000 Quilt Project, which is being displayed at Edwards Church from 2 to 5 p.m. through Sept. 16. The quilt honors the number of people detained on average daily by ICE in 2019, and Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice of Western Massachusetts contributed a square to it. The quilt consists of six tapestries, with contributions from people around North America, and it is a traveling exhibition.

The rally was held in between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Samaniego noted that Rosh Hashanah is a holiday he celebrated  for years with his friends prior to his detention, and he praised the support he’s received from the Jewish community.

“The solidarity that they’ve shown is unlike any I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Samaniego also said that he will continue advocating for immigration justice.

“I need to make something out of this,” Samaniego said. “Otherwise I can’t heal either.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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