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Pioneer Valley Workers Center: Local immigrant activist Eduardo Samaniego detained in Georgia

  • Eduardo Samaniego speaks in Northampton at a rally to bring detained local Iraqi immigrant Niberd Abdalla home on July 11, 2017. —GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Eduardo Samaniego, of Northampton, speaks during a protest against white nationalism Sunday outside City Hall in Northampton in the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday. —File photo



Staff Writer
Thursday, December 06, 2018

AMHERST — Prominent local activist and undocumented immigrant Eduardo Samaniego has reportedly been detained by immigration agents in his home state of Georgia, according to the Pioneer Valley Workers Center in Northampton.  

The center on Wednesday evening shared a Facebook post announcing that Samaniego, a worker leader with the center, had been detained at the Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility in Lovejoy, Georgia. Samaniego has been a vocal advocate for immigrant and worker rights at the local, state and federal levels.

“He went to visit family and friends for some needed rest, but instead has been caught up in the unjust immigration system,” the Pioneer Valley Workers Center post reads.

An employee at the Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility declined to confirm Samaniego’s detention at the facility, which is operated by the private prison company GEO Group. She referred a Gazette reporter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which did not respond to phone and email messages on Thursday.

Samaniego, who arrived in the Pioneer Valley as a Hampshire College student, has organized for immigrant rights locally, as well as on Beacon Hill and in Washington, D.C. He was a central voice in the ultimately unsuccessful push this summer for provisions to protect undocumented immigrants to be included in the state budget.

“We’ve been let down by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez and Sen. Karen Spilka, who promised to protect immigrants,” Samaniego said at a protest after those protections were left out of the 2019 budget. “We’re here to show our heartbreak, our disappointment and our rage.”

Earlier this year, Samaniego joined a group of activists who marched some 250 miles from New York City to Washington D.C. in support of the DREAM Act, which would provide legal status to immigrants who were brought to the country as minors.

Samaniego came to the United States when he was 16 years old, making his home in the state of Georgia. 

His early activism in that state revolved around a law passed in 2011 that bars undocumented immigrants from attending Georgia’s top research universities — a policy that prevented Samaniego from attending the University of Georgia in the city of Athens. Samaniego was arrested in 2013 protesting that policy, according to his Linkedin page.

“I was recruited in my senior year, because I was an outstanding student, to come to the University of Georgia and spend an entire week meeting professors," Samaniego told the Athens-based alt-weekly Flagpole in 2014. But when it came time to apply, his school counselor asked for his Social Security number and he didn't have one. "That’s when I realized what it meant to be undocumented, that I couldn’t pursue my dream like any other of my classmates."

Samaniego went on to attend Freedom University, an Atlanta-based school for undocumented students barred from Georgia’s top universities. The school is modeled after the tuition-free “freedom schools” organized for African Americans in the segregated South during the Civil Rights movement.

“This policy has segregated all universities and taken us back to a time when African-Americans were banned from those same institutions,” Samaniego told the news media in May 2014 after an act of civil disobedience at a Board of Regents meeting in Georgia.

Eventually, Samaniego came to Hampshire College on a full scholarship, where he studied constitutional law. 

As of 1:50 p.m. on Thursday, an online fundraising page for Samaniego had already raised more than $11,500. A post by the creator of that campaign, Karla Rojas, says that Samaniego recently moved back to Georgia.

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