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Border & Immigration

Día de los Muertos vigils to honor those who died in ICE detention

Día de Los Muertos altar.jpg
Pedro Rios
A Día de Los Muertos altar honoring those who passed in ICE detention centers at Otay Mesa Detention Center on October 28, 2021.

Community advocates and faith leaders are hosting Día de Los Muertos vigils across California to remember those who passed while in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)detention facility.

Día de Los Muertos vigils to honor those who died in ICE detention
Listen to this story by Melissa Mae.

Adriana Jasso is the program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego. That group hosted a vigil at the Otay Mesa Detention Center on Thursday.

Día de Los Muertos .jpg
Pedro Rios
An unidentified woman lights a candle during a Día de Los Muertos vigil held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center on October 28, 2021.

“We want to use the opportunity to bring awareness to the community and remind them that sadly COVID-19 has horrific consequences at these facilities,” Jasso said.

In May of 2020, a detainee at Otay Mesa was the first to die of COVID-19 in an immigration detention center nationwide.

Jasso says the vigils are meant to provide healing for everyone.

Día de Los Muertos vigil photo of Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia.jpg
Pedro Pios
A picture of Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia during a Día de Los Muertos vigil at the Otay Mesa Detention Center on October 28, 2021.

“If they want to remember someone who passed in their family, we know that COVID 2020 and 2021 has devastated some local families and overall our county,” Jasso said. “So we are also opening it up to the community.”

The vigils include cempazuchitl flowers, which are integral to the Día de Los Muertos tradition, Jasso said. She added that people are also invited to bring an offering to the space of the altar.

Jasso described some examples of offerings.

“Typically we ask for people to bring to the space, something that their loved one enjoyed, whether it’s food or drinks or a piece that brings them memories from the person that has left them,” she said.

Día de Los Muertos vigils scheduled to honor those who died in ICE detention facilities

A virtual vigil is also planned for Monday and will include family members who lost a loved one while in custody.

“[The virtual vigil] is an opportunity for people from other places, from other communities to come and learn about the impact that it has had on some of the families that have lost a loved one,” Jasso said.

When asked for comment, CoreCivic, the company that runs the Otay Mesa Detention Center, sent the following statement:

“The pandemic has been a difficult time for people around the world, and our heartfelt sympathy goes out to anyone who's lost a loved one. The health and safety of the people entrusted to our care and our dedicated staff is our top priority.”
Ryan Gustin, CoreCivic Director of Public Affairs

The vigils come a week after 24 members of congress, all from California, sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging the closure of three detention facilities in the state.

If you would like to take part in the virtual vigil on November 1, 2021 at 4:00 pm, register at bit.ly/DDLMVigil.

Día de Los Muertos vigil.jpg
Pedro Rios
Candles are lit at a Día de Los Muertos vigil at the Otay Mesa Detention Center on October 28, 2021.