Things That Matter

A Third Man Has Died In ICE Custody After Testing Positive For Covid-19

As ICE continues to detain thousand of migrants across the country in crowded detention centers, the pandemic continues to claim lives. This time a 51-year-old Mexican man has died after testing positive for Covid-19 while in ICE custody.

For months, migrant and refugee rights organizations have implored the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – the agency that oversees ICE – to release all people in their custody to avoid mass contagion. The fear has been that keeping thousands of people in close quarters and without proper access to medical care could result in the deaths of countless people. But the agency refuses to listen, and it’s costing lives.

ICE announced that a third man has died in their custody after battling a Coronavirus infection.

A 51-year-old Mexican man, Onoval Perez-Montufa, has been announced as the latest victim to die of Coronavirus infection while in ICE custody. Perez-Montufa has been in ICE custody since June 15, when he was released from a Massachusetts prison and was being held by ICE at the Glades County Detention Center in Florida before he died on Sunday.

Perez-Montufa had been hospitalized for nearly two weeks as he attempted to fight off his Covid-19 infection. He entered the Palm Beach Country hospital on July 1 after reporting shortness of breath while in ICE detention.

He tested positive for COVID-19 on July 2, ICE said. The cause of death on Sunday was not immediately known.

Reports of the man’s death drew swift condemnation from immigrant rights organizations, who’ve been pushing for weeks for ICE to release more detainees from its facilities and arguing coronavirus poses a deadly threat to immigrants behind bars.

The death comes more than a month after a Guatemalan man who tested positive for COVID-19 died in ICE custody.

Unfortunately, Perez-Montufa is not the only victim of ICE’s continued detention policy amid a global health pandemic. His death comes a month after a 34-year-old Guatemalan man who had tested positive for COVID-19 died in ICE custody at a Georgia hospital in May.

That man, 34-year-old Santiago Baten-Oxlaj, had been in ICE custody at Stewart Detention Center since early March, the agency confirmed in a statement.

Baten-Oxlaj was the second confirmed victim of the virus while in ICE custody after a man from El Salvador died in early May.

Migrants in detention centers are at increased risk for the disease.

According to ICE’s own data, there are currently 883 cases of Covid-19 among the nearly 23,000 detainees in ICE custody. That’s an overall infection rate of nearly 4% – far above the national average.

And since the very start of the Coronavirus pandemic, medical experts and immigrant rights activists have warned about the growing risk detainees would face. They’ve long pointed out the inherent difficulties within detention centers – such as a lack of necessary space to accommodate proper social distancing guidelines – that put people in danger. Not to mention that the agency has long faced accusations of providing inadequate medical care to detainees. Advocates have used these arguments as a way to push for more releases.

At the beginning of the pandemic, ICE did asses their detainee population and decided to relocate vulnerable detainees, including those who are over 60 or are pregnant. Meanwhile, several federal judges have ordered ICE to release more than 500 detainees, citing the preexisting medical conditions of the immigrants released and the potential for life-threatening complications from COVID-19.

Despite the ongoing deaths and sky high infection rates, ICE said in a press release: “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive, agency-wide review of this incident.”

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Mexico’s Famed Día De Muertos Events Are Going Virtual, Meaning It’s Easier Than Ever To Join The Celebrations

Culture

Mexico’s Famed Día De Muertos Events Are Going Virtual, Meaning It’s Easier Than Ever To Join The Celebrations

Jan Sochor / Getty Images

In Mexico, traditions are sacred and family is everything. So when the Coronavirus pandemic hit Mexico and threatened to take away many of the country’s prized traditions, people sprung into action to think outside the box so that communities could continue celebrating the year’s many traditions but in a low-risk way.

It’s this commitment to tradition and ingenuity that is helping Día de Muertos traditions live on this year, despite the surge in Covid-19 cases across the country.

Día de Muertos is usually celebrated across Central and Southern Mexico with large celebrations that include people from the entire pueblo. Well, obviously this year that isn’t exactly possible (or at least safe) so authorities are creating new ways to bring the important celebrations to Mexicans (and others) around the world.

Thanks to Covid-19, our Día de Muertos celebrations will look a lot different this year.

Typically at this time of year, Mexico bustles with activity and cities and pueblos across the country come to life full of color and scents. The cempasúchil – the typical orange marigolds associated with Día de Muertos – are everywhere and the scent is intoxicating.

However, things look exceptionally different this year. Mexican authorities have said cemeteries will remain closed for the Nov. 2 celebration, meaning that people aren’t buying up the flowers as in years past. In fact, according to many growers, less than half the typical amount have been grown this year.

Along with the cutback in flowers and typical holiday purchases, nearly all of the country’s major events have been cancelled by authorities. However, officials say that families can still celebrate but in more private ways or by tuning into online, virtual events.

Mexican authorities are urging people to practice sana distancia and avoid large family gatherings – including for Day of the Dead.

For many Mexicans, however, this year is especially important to celebrate the holiday in honor of the loved ones they’ve lost to the pandemic. Mexico has been one of the world’s hardest hit countries as there have been more than 855,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 86,338 deaths. Although those numbers are said to be highly skewed thanks to one of the world’s lowest testing rates.

“This year is very special because my family members died of COVID-19,” said Dulce Maria Torres in an interview with NBC News, who was buying flowers at a traditional market in the Mexican capital. “It’s important to me and we want to make them a beautiful offering.”

However, authorities are pleading with people to help contain the virus’ spread by avoiding the traditional family gatherings associated with the holiday.

As Mexico works to curb the spread of Covid-19, most events are going virtual this year.

Authorities across Mexico are working to maintain a balance between tradition and safety as they work to bring Día de Muertos celebrations to an online audience.

In an interview, Paola Félix Díaz, Director of the Tourism Promotion Fund, said that “Events such as the Day of the Dead are an opportunity to generate a tribute to all the people who have left because of this disease but also as a reminder of all the traditions that cannot be stopped.”

Officials are working an app called “Xóchitl, Mexico’s virtual ambassador for the world” that will work as an interactive digital platform featuring AR (Augmented Reality), which will include content related to Mexican traditions, culture, and entertainment.

The platform will give access to virtual events, live streaming for the promotion of beautiful Mexico City in a safe way without putting anyone at risk. The parade will be held inside a stadium or a recording studio, without public and following all COVID-19 protocols. The event will be broadcast in many different online platforms”

Even Mexico City’s famed Día de Muertos parade is going virtual this year.

Mexico City’s Day of the Dead parade is one of the country’s biggest tourism draws. Just last year the city had more than 2 million people at the parade. In addition, it’s a widely sponsored event by large companies such as Apple and Mattel. It brings in millions of dollars of revenue to the city.

Félix Díaz said that the possibilities of a virtual parade or “looking for these new trends such as drive-ins or a car tour are in talks. We are planning it.”

Cancun’s Xcaret park will be hosting an online festival to celebrate the holiday.

Although the sustainable park based outside Cancun has suspended all of its events and activities for 2020, in accordance with WHO recommendations, the park will host a virtual celebration for Día de Muertos.

Although the official date hasn’t yet been confirmed, the group says that they are excited to bring the event (now in its 14th year) to people around the world via an online celebration.

Events in the U.S. will also be taking place online – from California to New York.

One of the country’s largest Día de Muertos events, held in LA’s Grand Park will take place with 12 days of virtual celebrations. You’ll find arts workshops, digital ofrendas and storytelling online, as well as in-real-life art installations at the neighboring Downtown locations. Self-Help Graphics & Art—which hosts its own Day of the Dead event—has curated 11 large-scale altars for socially distant viewing, with audio tours available online.

Downey moves its annual Day of the Dead celebration from the city’s civic center to the internet with this virtual celebration. In the lead-up to the event you’ll be able to find recipes and crafting tutorials, and on the day of you can expect a mix of movies, music, ballet folklorico performances, shopping opportunities and a pair of art exhibitions.

And for those of us who can’t wait and/or want 24/7/365 access to Día de Muertos events, there’s always Google. The platform brings tons of Day of the Dead exhibits and information to users around the world through its Google Arts & Culture site, which you can view here.

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ICE Says They Rescued A Mother And Her Newborn But Then They Turned Around And Separated Them

Things That Matter

ICE Says They Rescued A Mother And Her Newborn But Then They Turned Around And Separated Them

Gloria DeValle / Getty Images

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency had recently released a story about how border agents had ‘rescued’ a woman and her newborn baby in the middle of the Texas desert. In their release, they detailed how the pair were provided with immediate medical treatment, however, they failed to mention that the mother was immediately separated from her newborn.

As the case gains more attention, immigration advocates and legal officials are coming forward with new details in the woman’s case and it’s helping to paint a very different picture from the one given by border officials.

New details are emerging after ICE said they had ‘rescued’ a woman in labor.

An entirely new picture is emerging regarding a story put out by ICE itself saying they had ‘rescued’ a woman in labor. However, ICE officials forgot to mention one very important detail – just hours after their supposed rescue – they separated the woman from her newborn baby and detained her pending her possible removal from the country.

According to the ICE press release, border agents responded to a 911 call and found the woman soon after she had delivered her baby alone in a field near Eagle Pass, Texas. Officials first transported the mother and child to a nearby hospital, then the baby was airlifted to a neonatal care unit hours from where the mother was being held in custody.

“They told her she was going to be sent back to Mexico without her baby,” according to Amy Maldonado, who is legally representing the mother, and spoke to the LA Times.

The mother and baby have since been reunited but a legal process is still playing out regarding their future.

It wasn’t until the LA Times published a story about what had happened that ICE released the mother from custody, and she was reunited with her baby in San Antonio.

According to Austin Skero, chief patrol agent for the Del Rio sector, who responded in a tweet to The Times, agents had to separate the mother and baby due to the San Antonio hospital’s COVID-19 policy for the neonatal unit, which the hospital immediately disputed.

Leni Kirkman, representative for University Hospital in San Antonio, told The Times in an interview the statements were not correct. 

“That is definitely not the hospital policy,” she said. “We do not separate babies and parents.”

Even during a surge in COVID-19 cases in Texas, “which fortunately we’re not in now,” she said, “the parents of NICU babies got to be with their baby. That was not something we backed off on. Babies need to be with their parents.”

Not surprisingly, ICE has a history of separating mothers from their newborn and nursing children.

Sadly, there are many stories of mothers being torn apart from their children – including those who still require breastfeeding.

Last year, following the ICE raids of processing plants in Mississippi, details emerged of a mother who picked up by ICE and unable to see her 4-month-old daughte, who she was still nursing – and who herself is a U.S. citizen.

Advocates also report that some asylum seekers in the Texas who have given birth in ICE custody were forced to hand over their newborns to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Reuniting with their newborn hinges on their release from federal custody, and whether they can access legal help to navigate the child welfare system.

Last year, DFPS attempted to place a detained woman’s newborn in foster care. The woman “cried for 72 hours straight,” a Texas OB-GYN told Rewire.News. The OB-GYN held the woman at the hospital for five days so that she could see a psychologist.

“I was worried she was going to hurt herself when they took her back to the detention center,” the doctor said. “Luckily in her case, they were eventually able to locate an aunt-in-law, her uncle’s wife, who lived in Chicago. But this wasn’t a blood relative, and it wasn’t someone she’d ever met before.”

The mother of the newborn had attempted to seek asylum in the U.S. but was forced to stay in Mexico.

The mother picked up by ICE with her newborn, whose name has not been released, had recently applied for asylum at the border earlier this year with her older child, who is 6-years-old, but officials put them into the controversial “Remain In Mexico” program.

The Migrant Protection Protocols (or MPP) sent them back to Mexico to wait until their asylum hearing. Under MPP, tens of thousands of asylum seekers have been forced back to dangerous Mexican border towns to await hearings in the United States, some for more than a year. Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration closed the U.S.-Mexico border in March to all nonessential travel and indefinitely postponed most MPP hearings. 

The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the Homeland Security Department over its “treatment of pregnant people, or people in active labor, delivery, or post-delivery recuperation in CBP custody or subject to the MPP,” and called for an investigation into returning pregnant women to Mexico under MPP.

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