Over the last several weeks, President Trump has put sanctuary cities on notice: stop protecting undocumented immigrants or risk losing billions in federal funding for state programs. California’s political leaders are far from intimidated, and in fact are now discussing turning the entire state into a sanctuary for its undocumented population, The Hill reports.
On Tuesday, California’s Senate Public Safety Committee approved the California Values Act, which calls for several protections for undocumented immigrants.
It’s not just about the money for California’s politicians, as they are already willing to sacrifice federal funding to protect their undocumented immigrant population. Governor Jerry Brown has gone on record, according to Yahoo! News, saying that they are “integral” to what California stands for. “They have helped create the wealth and dynamism of this state from the very beginning,” said Brown.
The push for sanctuary status is led by the legislation, which is majority Democrat.
Every year around this time, many Latino families setup their ofrendas and set out pictures and objects belonging to their lost loved ones – in celebration of Día de Muertos.
However, this year’s celebrations are looking very different thanks to the global Coronavirus pandemic.
Not only have many families recently lost loved ones to the virus, they’re also struggling with ways to pay for the often extravagant celebrations as so many are left without work and income. Others are too afraid to gather with their families for fear that they may spread the virus to others. Meanwhile, in some cities, cemeteries (where many of the celebrations take place) have been closed to the public to avoid further contagion risk.
So, to help bridge that divide some communities are finding new and creative ways to help celebrate their lost loved ones amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
A mobile ofrenda will visit some of LA’s neighborhoods most affected by the pandemic.
Día de Muertos takes on a special meaning this year as a deadly pandemic continues to disproportionately affect Latino communities. And although traditional celebrations and events have been canceled, Latino Health Access (a nonprofit that advocates for the health of the local Latino community) plans to bring the celebration to the homes of those most impacted by the virus in Orange County to honor the deceased.
“Many of the events have been canceled, but we still want to honor those people who have passed away this year because of COVID,” Karen Sarabia, program associate for the Latino Health Access COVID-19 response team, told the LA Times.
The group along with a few local artists are converting a 28-foot flatbed truck into the altar, much like a float in the Rose Parade. Residents will be able to take photos with the altar. They can also provide offerings or write down the names of their loved ones and place them on the altar to honor the deceased.
Ofrendas like this one are a central part of Día de Muertos celebrations.
Giovanni Vazquez, a local artist from Anaheim helping to construct the altar, spoke to the LA Times about the significance of the Day of the Dead.
“I think it’s important because … this is how we remember all the dead and how we also celebrate the living,” Vazquez said, “This is how we remember that we’re going to go too. No matter which pandemic, no matter what cause, we are also going to die too.”
He continued: “We would like to share the art and try to make people think that death is also colorful and something we can celebrate … Just being thankful that we met the people in our life, even though they have passed, we remember them.”
According to the group, the ofrenda will have the basic components of classical altars in Mexico, where the tradition of Día de Muertos originated. There will be candles, thousands of paper flowers, sugar skulls and many offerings.
There will be a prominent large skull and several smaller skulls with butterfly wings. Vazquez said those represent “the sacred migration of the living.” Monarch butterflies, which migrate to Mexico in November, are important symbols of Day of the Dead.
The ofrenda and campaign is more important than ever as Latinos and other minority communities continue to suffer the worst effects of the pandemic.
Latino Health Access is organizing the event as part of the Latino Health Equity Initiative. Orange County launched the program in June in partnership with Latino Health Access after data revealed that the Latino community, particularly in Anaheim and Santa Ana, has taken the brunt of the pandemic in Orange County.
The Los Angeles Times reported in late September that while Latinos make up 39% of the state’s population, they account for 61% of the state’s cases and 49% of COVID-19 deaths.
Anaheim is 56% Latino and Santa Ana is 77%. The cities account for about 36% of the county’s COVID-19 cases.
Through the initiative, Latino Health Access is offering testing, outreach, education and referral services.
California is not alone as cities from El Paso to Chicago create their own Día de Muertos celebrations to commemorate Covid-19 victims.
At the Mexican National Art Museum in Chicago, the museum has launched it’s exhibit memorializing Latinos who have died of the virus. “Sólo un Poco Aquí: Day of the Dead” honors people who have died from COVID-19 in Chicago and globally, said Antonio Parazan, director of education at the museum.
The exhibit is “paying tribute and remembering … the numerous individuals from our community … during this terrible pandemic,” he said.
“We’ve had some of the highest number of infections … and a high number of deaths, as well,” Parazan said, noting Latino neighborhoods in Chicago have been among the hardest hit by coronavirus.
Even in Mexico – which has been one of the world’s hardest hit countries – officials are thinking of ways to merge traditional Día de Muertos celebrations with remembrances of Covid-19 victims.
In the town of Xalapa, families are taking photos with a giant Catrina, which is one fo the most iconic symbols of the holiday. And in Mexico City, the cities annual parade is going digital and will feature a special commemoration for Covid-19 victims.
Across the country, dozens of undocumented immigrants have sought refuge at churches, where they are typically safe from immigration enforcement.
However, as ICE escalates its attacks on the immigrant community, churches and other sensitive places of refuge may no longer be the ‘safe spaces’ they once were.
ICE has allegedly arrested a man who was inside of a church and they lied to get him out.
Last week, six ICE agents entered an undocumented migrant’s home (located on church property) and now that man is in a Georgia detention center. Binsar Siahaan, 52 (from Indonesia), was told that there was a problem with the GPS monitor he had to wear and that they needed to take him to an ICE office in Silver Springs, MD.
“As soon as he stepped outside, they handcuffed him,” taking him first to Baltimore and then to Georgia. He was not given anything to eat for two days, Rev. Scroggins said through tears. She said, “He is being abused. He is not well,” adding, “The way he is being treated is absolutely appalling.”
Siahaan currently is being held in the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. and may be deported to his native Indonesia. He has been in the United States since 1989, coming here on a visa to work as a driver for the Indonesian Embassy. He overstayed the terms of the visa and then was denied asylum, because he did not apply on time.
But in Siahaan’s case, at the time they moved into the house on church grounds in January, they had no reason to fear ICE would come after them. They moved in to help take care of the church, which they have been attending for about six years.
Siahaan’s attorney and clergy at Glenmont United Methodist are rallying to stop Siahaan’s deportation, accusing ICE of breaching its own protocol by arresting him on church property under false pretenses and while his appeals are still pending.
The church where it happened is urging ICE to release the man – who is still in custody.
Leaders of the United Methodist Church – where the arrest occurred – have called for ICE to release Siahaan. They also called on ICE to state publically that it will uphold its policy of not entering sensitive locations, which includes “churches, synagogues, mosques or other institutions of worship, such as buildings rented for the purpose of religious services,” according to an ICE 2011 memorandum
“We are gravely concerned,” said Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, general secretary of the general board of the Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. “Church grounds are sacred.” She said the government was “in complicity to sin” if it won’t protect immigrants.
Rev. Kara Scroggins, pastor of the Glenmont church where Binsar has been a member for six years, called Siahaan “one of the most devoted, loyal and generous persons I know.” He helps out at the church constantly and usually is the first to arrive and the last to leave, she said.
This is hardly the first time ICE has conducted similar operations.
An immigrant who sought refuge from deportation in a North Carolina church, staying there for 11 months, was arrested in 2018 after arriving at an appointment with immigration officials.
The arrest led to protests and the arrest of some supporters of Samuel Oliver-Bruno, the 47-year-old Mexican national who, according to an ICE news release, was detained at a Raleigh-area immigration office.
An advocacy group, Alerta Migratoria NC, said in a statement Oliver-Bruno went to have fingerprints taken so he could apply to stay in North Carolina with his wife and son. This is when ICE stopped in to make the arrest.
He had been living in CityWell United Methodist Church in Durham since late 2017, to avoid the reach of immigration officers, who generally avoid making arrests at churches and other sensitive locations.