Undocumented Hampshire Student to Walk 250 Miles for Immigrant Rights

Representing the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, 11 undocumented individuals will walk from New York City to Washington, D.C., starting Thursday, Feb. 15.

Among them will be Eduardo Samaniego, 25, of Amherst. Samaniego is in his third year at Hampshire College and has been active in fighting for immigrant rights, both at the state and federal levels.

Hampshire College student Eduardo Samaniego addresses a vigil in Northampton on Tuesday evening, September 5, 2017, held in the wake of the termination of the DACA program announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier in the day. Kevin Gutting photo.

“It’s about 250 miles we’ll be walking in pretty harsh conditions, but it is the right thing to do,” Samaniego said. “This moment calls for drastic actions so the public can see our plight and hopefully they can relay our message to Congress.”

Samaniego said he has been paying close attention to the ongoing debate in the U.S. Senate, where a bipartisan group of senators claims to have a deal on a bill that would address legal status for immigrants who came to the United States at a young age, known as “Dreamers” after the failed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The act would also deal with border security, according to a report by TheHill.com.

“We believe Friday will be a big day and there might be a final bill,” Samaniego said. “Unfortunately the House of Representatives is going to be a big obstacle. [House Speaker] Paul Ryan has refused to say if he would take any bill from the Senate.”

At the same time, Samaniego thinks that political pressure from the passage of a bill in the Senate could force lawmakers in both houses to act, and perhaps even President Donald Trump.

As those debates carry on, Samaniego and his 10 companions from states including New Jersey, California, and Arizona, will be walking between 30 and 50 miles per day, he said.

The majority of those participating are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Executive Order, but some, including Samaniego, do not have those protections.

“The fact is that we will be exposing ourselves,” he said. “We will be coming forward as undocumented immigrants living in the United States. … There might be people who try to stop us along the way.”

Samaniego said that during a previous walk in 2010 in support of immigration legislation, there were Ku Klux Klan rallies that deployed along the walkers’ route, and that he expects there may be some attempted interference by those who have an anti-immigrant viewpoint and supporters of President Trump.

At the same time, churches, mosques, synagogues, and some families have agreed to open their doors to those participating in the walk to put them up for the night, Samaniego said.

He feels a large sense of responsibility participating in the walk, which will end at the Capitol Building, in representing 11 million undocumented immigrants, 2.5 million of which fall into the category of “Dreamers,” he said.

“I feel very energized because of the Massachusetts community,” he said. “I am carrying their message and their spirit with me.”

Samaniego graduated high school in 2011 as class president in his Georgia school, but the fact that he did not have a social security number meant that he could not apply to the University of Georgia, where he wanted to attend. After a few years working two jobs and enduring a depression due to not being able to pursue his education, he was accepted to Hampshire with a full scholarship.

Rose Bookbinder, a lead organizer with Jobs with Justice and the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, where Samaniego is also an organizer, said she is proud of him.

“We are constantly inspired and driven by Eduardo’s leadership, and feel called to do this work,” she said. “We are so excited to get to be part of this historic moment to be on the precipice of something.”

Samaniego will be providing updates on his Twitter account, @edusamani, and updates will also be posted to https://www.theseedproject.us.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@valleyadvocate.com.

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