Crowds rally for detained immigrant activist in Springfield, Atlanta

  • Pioneer Valley Workers Center organizer Rose Bookbinder speaks at a protest Thursday calling for the release of Eduardo Samaniego. STAFF PHOTO/DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

  • Pioneer Valley Workers Center organizer Rose Bookbinder speaks at a protest on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, calling for the release of Eduardo Samaniego, the immigrant activist and former Hampshire College student who is being held in an immigrant detention center in Georgia as he awaits deportation proceedings.

Staff Writer
Published: 1/3/2019 10:59:13 PM

SPRINGFIELD — “Free Eduardo” were the chants heard Thursday in front of the Department of Homeland Security office in Springfield as protesters demanded the release of a local immigrant-rights activist who has been detained in Georgia.

Eduardo Samaniego, a former Hampshire College student, was arrested in October and has been detained ever since in his home state, where he had recently returned to live. On Thursday, an immigration judge granted him a continuance request, allowing for another hearing in the near future.

“That gives us an opportunity to continue to fight to have Eduardo released,” Charles Kuck, Samaniego’s attorney, said Thursday.

Kuck said Samaniego was arrested after he went for a run without his wallet, got lost and called a cab. He tried to direct the taxi driver to his home, but couldn’t find it. Eventually, the driver pulled over at a gas station and called the police on Samaniego.

For the first 45 days of his incarceration, Kuck said, nobody knew where Samaniego was. His supporters eventually located him, paid his bond and he was immediately transferred into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

Samaniego was denied bond on Dec. 27, and on that day was transferred to the Irwin County Detention Center, where he has been held in isolation, according to the Pioneer Valley Workers Center. A 2017 report from Penn State Law’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic found, through interviews with detainees and their attorneys, that immigrants held at the Irwin facility lack proper access to legal counsel, their families, hygienic food and water, legal information and phone usage.

“The unhygienic environment and poor living conditions not only take a toll on the detained immigrants’ health, but also have a negative and disturbing impact on the minds of the individuals being held in detention,” the report found.

Samaniego’s mental health is a concern for his supporters. In 2016, he was at an apartment in Georgia when a gas explosion burned approximately half of his body, and Kuck said he is still suffering from that episode.

“I think he’s got some PTSD from that that’s affected him, along with being incarcerated,” Kuck said.

Support for Samaniego’s release has spread quickly since his supporters went public with news of his detention. Margaret Sawyer, an organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, said Samaniego signed a privacy release so that U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, Sen. Ed Markey and Sen. Elizabeth Warren can advocate for him.

“If I had representatives and senators like that, I’d be a very happy man,” Kuck said. “They have been aggressively communicating with ICE, both locally and nationally, asking for Eduardo’s release.”

In addition to the around 200 people who rallied in Springfield on Thursday, Samaniego’s supporters say a similar crowd gathered outside the immigration court in Atlanta.

“It was very powerful,” said Haydi Torres, 21, a friend of Samaniego’s who was at the Atlanta protest.

Torres, who lives in Virginia, met Samaniego because they were both part of the group of immigrant activists who marched from New York City to Washington in support of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to immigrants who were brought to the country as minors.

“Undocumented immigrants, we provide labor to this country,” Torres said. “Our work should be respected. We should live with dignity and respect.”

Torres said Samaniego’s mother, Maricela, spoke at the Atlanta rally. Efforts to reach his mother were unsuccessful on Thursday.

“She’s only seen Eduardo twice (at the detention facility), and both times Eduardo has said to her he needs to be out of there,” Torres said. “He’s suffering human rights abuses.”

The situation is a difficult one for Samaniego, Kuck said, because of increased deportations under the administration of President Donald Trump. Kuck said that the Trump-appointed immigration judge who denied Samaniego bond has, to Kuck’s knowledge, denied every bond request she has ever heard.

Kuck said he’s hoping to get a new bond hearing for Samaniego, who he said is not a flight risk or danger to the community in any way.

That community turned out to show their support in Springfield, waving “free Eduardo” signs and chanting.

“We are here and we are strong, and we want Eduardo home,” said Rev. Tanya Wallace of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, where Samaniego previously interned.

Fellow organizers, friends and acquaintances were among those at the rally.

“I miss Eduardo so much,” said Lorena Moreno, a fellow activist and immigrant. “We spent so many days going back and forth from Boston lobbying for immigrant rights.”

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


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