Pioneer Valley Workers Center: Immigrant activist detained by ICE denied bond

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Eduardo Samaniego, of Northampton, speaks during a protest against white nationalism outside City Hall in Northampton in the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.

Staff Writer
Published: 12/28/2018 2:42:15 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Prominent local activist and undocumented immigrant Eduardo Samaniego has been denied bond, meaning he continues to remain incarcerated in an immigration detention facility in his home state of Georgia as he faces deportation proceedings.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, detained Samaniego while he was visiting family and friends in Georgia, according to the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, where he was a worker leader. On Friday, the Workers Center announced on their Facebook page that Samaniego was denied bond on Thursday.

“Eduardo is a national leader widely recognized for his strong voice calling for recognition of DREAMers and all immigrants in the US,” the post reads. “Like other immigration activists nationwide, Eduardo is being targeted for his work.”

Samaniego, who is originally from Mexico, came to the Pioneer Valley as a Hampshire College student in 2014 and still has strong ties in the area. He has organized for immigrant rights locally, as well as on Beacon Hill, in Washington, D.C. and in Georgia, where he helped protest a 2011 law that bars undocumented immigrants from attending the state’s top universities — a policy that prevented Samaniego from attending the University of Georgia in Athens. He immigrated to Georgia at the age of 16.

In June, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, declared at an event at First Congregational Church in Amherst that he supported abolishing ICE, which was created in 2002. When the Gazette asked why he had decided to adopt that policy position, one of the reasons he cited was Samaniego’s testimony at the event.

When reached Friday, McGovern called Samaniego an “amazing human being and very effective activist,” recalling that day in Amherst. 

“I find this all very disturbing,” McGovern said of Samaniego’s detention and denial of bond. “He’s precisely the kind of person you want in your community because he cares deeply about people, he cares about justice, he cares about fairness.” 

In an interview, Workers Center organizer Rose Bookbinder said that Samaniego was arrested 71 days ago after forgetting his wallet at home when he took a taxi. Instead of driving him back to get his wallet, the taxi driver called the police on him, according to Bookbinder.

Samaniego was held in Georgia’s Cobb County jail until eventually posting bond on Dec. 3, when he was immediately transferred to ICE custody and placed in the Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility in the city of Lovejoy, Bookbinder said. The Cobb County Sheriff’s Office participates in the federal program known as 287(g), which allows the Department of Homeland Security to train local and state police to also work as federal immigration officers.

Samaniego’s health has been deteriorating while in custody, Bookbinder said. In 2016, he was at an apartment in Georgia when a gas explosion burned approximately half of his body, and the Workers Center said he is still suffering mentally and physically from that episode. Bookbinder said he has not received proper medical care while in detention and has been on hunger strike for large parts of his detention.

“He’s just been isolated and hasn’t been able to see loved ones and be connected to the world,” Bookbinder said. “Eduardo is someone who thrives on being with people, and organizing and feeling that energy.”

An immigration judge denied Samaniego bond on Thursday after deeming him a flight risk — a decision Bookbinder disputed. On Friday, Samaniego was transferred to the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia. Bookbinder said he has been held in the medical wing of both ICE detention facilities where he has been incarcerated.

Earlier this month, more than 150 people from the Pioneer Valley and beyond — including senators, local officials and community members — wrote letters in support of Samaniego, according to the Workers Center.

Bookbinder said Samaniego’s bond hearing was originally scheduled for Jan. 3, but the hearing was suddenly moved to Thursday, with his lawyers receiving less than 24 hours notice of the change.

“We do feel like he is being targeted for his activism,” Bookbinder said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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