Activists: Immigrant advocate being maltreated

  • Eduardo Samaniego speaks in favor of a state Safe Communities Act at a rally in front of Amherst Town Hall in May. The Pioneer Valley Workers Center is now putting out a community call on Samaniego’s behalf. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/Scott Merzbach

Staff Writer
Published: 12/30/2018 9:59:39 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Pioneer Valley Workers Center is calling on the public to make phone calls, participate in rallies and sign a petition to aid Eduardo Samaniego, the prominent local activist and undocumented immigrant who is being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in a Georgia detention facility.

Describing his situation as “a new level of urgency,” the Workers Center in a Facebook post Sunday afternoon noted that Samaniego’s move to the Irwin County Detention Facility in Ocilla, Georgia, means he is at one of the most oppressive locations in the country, with “numerous human rights abuse cases against it.”

“His health and well-being are severely jeopardized,” the post read. “He is kept in an empty room, not allowed clothing, forced to eat with his hands and has 24-hour observation. This is TORTURE!”

Samaniego, who has been a worker leader for the Workers Center, was detained by ICE while he was visiting family and friends in Georgia. He was being held at the Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility in the city of Lovejoy, Georgia, for most of December, but was transferred when he was denied bond at an abruptly scheduled hearing last week.

“A lot of community supporters and religious leaders were not able to attend the bond hearing,” said Margaret Sawyer, a lead organizer for the Workers Center, on Sunday. “We are really upset that he was denied bond. He is not a flight risk.”

With the bond denial, Samaniego is scheduled for deportation proceedings, known as a “master calendar hearing,” Thursday at 8 a.m. This, Sawyer said, “means his case is moving fast.”

Sawyer said she believes it is imperative for Samaniego’s friends and supporters to act quickly to reverse the earlier bond decision so that he won’t be forcefully removed and deported.

Samaniego’s health is also at risk, Sawyer said, observing that the facility is holding him in segregation. “They use ‘seg’ as a punitive measure,” she said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been advocating on Samaniego’s behalf, was denied a visit to see him over the weekend. Saywer said the Southern Povery Law Center has a lawsuit against the Irwin facility for not providing those people it is holding access to lawyers.

Phone calls and emails to ICE officials were not immediately returned.

Originally from Mexico, Samaniego came to the Pioneer Valley as a Hampshire College student in 2014. 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.

Those interested in making calls are encouraged to get in touch with ICE with Samaniego’s alien registration number, known as an “A” number, 206-862-839, and his full name, Eduardo Samaniego Amaya, and to inform federal agents that he has deep community ties in both Massachusetts and Georgia, limiting his flight risk, and that as a faith leader and student leader he poses no dangers to public safety. The Workers Center gave contacts as ICE Field Director Sean Gallaghar at 404-893-1206 and Assistant Director Kristen Sullivan: 404-893-1203.

In addition, the Workers Center will be holding simultaneous rallies, one in Springfield at the ICE Office, 1550 Main St., the other at the Immigration Court at 180 Ted Turner Drive Southwest in Atlanta to coincide with Thursday morning’s hearing. Other similar rallies may pop up in other communities, Sawyer said.

The petition has already collected 2,000 signatures, including state Sen.-elect Jo Comerford, who posted a link to it on her Twitter feed Sunday. That petition is at https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/freeeduardo-samaniego

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 Deyton facility.

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.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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