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San Diego coalition sets up Día de los Muertos altar for fallen migrants

On Oct. 28, San Diego community members led by Free Them All gathered outside Otay Mesa Detention Center to pay their respects to people killed by negligence and violence at the hands of ICE and private immigration detention companies such as Core Civic and GEO Group. The event, attended by Otay Mesa Detention Resistance, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and other organizations and activists, marks the second annual community Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altar.

Before the event began, at around 5:45 p.m., cheers from people imprisoned inside Otay Mesa Detention Center could be heard over the hum of the Calpine power plant. They were cheering the demonstrators. 

As people gathered, attendees added cempasuchiles (Mexican marigolds), pan de muerto (bread of the dead), and other offerings to a community altar. Afterwards, 28 candles were lit — each commemorating someone who had passed away while detained. Among the many was Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia.

The altar early in the evening. Liberation photo

Mejia, a Salvadoran native, passed away on May 6 from complications resulting from COVID-19. His sister, Rosa, called in to share his story. Prior to being detained by ICE Carlos was already ill, suffering from diabetes and other ailments. Once inside, his condition quickly deteriorated. He, along with other prisoners, sought help from ICE officials, help which didn’t come.

This sentiment was echoed by other prisoners who shared their story via phone call. Walter Velasquez, originally from Honduras, recounted prisoners’ experience with the detention center’s lack of medical care. “Here we suffer. They aren’t helping us with our medical problems. They aren’t helping us with medicine.”

Velasquez said the detention center could not provide him with the appropriate medications for depression and insomnia. They disclosed that disabled folks inside the facility are denied wheelchairs and instead given a single crutch to use for months, even years. 

Chalk art at the action. Liberation photo

The vigil ended with a call to continue fighting for the immediate release of all detained immigrants and for the abolition of the prison industrial complex. Echoing these sentiments, Pedros Rios from the American Friends Service Committee said , “No more! … whether it’s this year, and whether it will be next year, our resistance will be threefold, our resistance will be seven-fold, our resistance will be twenty-fold.”

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