×

Immigrant rights activist Eduardo Samaniego to be deported 

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



Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2019

After 100 days of incarceration, local immigrant rights activist Eduardo Samaniego has accepted so-called “voluntary departure” and will be deported to Mexico, a country he left a decade ago.

In October, Samaniego was arrested in Georgia after forgetting his wallet and failing to pay $27.75 in cab fare — a misdemeanor charge his supporters say has since been dropped after the fare was paid. But because of his immigration status, Samaniego was transferred from jail to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and on Friday Samaniego decided to accept deportation before an immigration judge.

The decision is one that Samaniego’s supporters are calling a denial of due process. Samaniego’s lawyer, Charles Kuck, said the judge presiding over the case ignored Kuck’s partner’s argument that Samaniego wasn’t capable of competently making decisions because of his mental state. According to Kuck, the judge decided there was no need for a competency evaluation, declined to wait for a psychiatric evaluation the defense had scheduled for this week, and instead addressed Samaniego directly.

“If there really are issues of mental health and an ability to make decisions about someone’s life, there’s no reason to rush,” Kuck said. “They simply railroaded this kid out of the country.”

A spokesman for ICE did not immediately answer questions for this article.

Samaniego recently had been transferred from a Georgia ICE detention facility to Columbia Regional Care Center in South Carolina, an immigrant detention center that doubles as a mental health hospital.

A judge gave Samaniego 30 days to purchase a ticket to Mexico, and he will remain in custody until ICE puts him on that plane, Kuck said.

“Eduardo’s dreams for the future are now being blocked, because of inhumane judges,” Maricela Samaniego, Eduardo’s mother, said in a statement. “And I said inhumane because the judges already had their minds made up. They refuse to see and hear the special case that my son is presenting.”

Maricela Samaniego did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Kuck said that the Mexican government has been helpful during the proceedings, working to ensure Samaniego will be safe when he arrives in Mexico.

“We need to get him in a facility where he’ll get the treatment he needs to get better,” Kuck said.

In 2015, Samaniego was in an apartment in Georgia during a gas explosion, which burned 45 percent of his body, sending him to the hospital for three months and leaving him with lasting physical and mental scars, his supporters in the Eduardo Samaniego Support Network said in a statement. His health deteriorated further, they said, during his time in detention, including three weeks when he was held in solitary confinement.

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 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, by himself, at the age of 16.

Since December, when local activists announced that Samaniego had been detained, his case has garnered support across the country. In Massachusetts, Democratic U.S. Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, and U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, have worked to support Samaniego, according to the Eduardo Samaniego Support Network. U.S. Rep. Henry Johnson, of Georgia’s 4th Congressional District, wrote a letter last week to the director of Atlanta’s ICE field office, expressing concern over Samaniego’s physical and mental health.

“Eduardo has been under great mental strain since his detention began and solitary confinement only exacerbated his condition,” Johnson’s letter reads. “It is problematic that he is having to defend his case given his mental and physical condition.”

Rose Bookbinder, an organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, said Samaniego’s supporters are “heartbroken” to see the country’s “unjust system up close.”

“What’s going on with Eduardo is an example of what’s going on with thousands of people, and not everyone has this incredible team of lawyers, activists and friends across the country,” Bookbinder said. “It’s scary what’s happening behind closed doors to immigrants across the country.”

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