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Day of the Dead altar in Santa Rosa honors undocumented immigrants

An altar honoring undocumented immigrants who have died from COVID-19 was raised outside of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ offices Tuesday morning as part of an ongoing effort to pressure the county board to advocate for a federal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, among other demands.

The event was held in Santa Rosa and hosted by local immigrant and worker rights groups, among them the domestic worker committee ALMAS and the Graton Day Labor Center.

It began at 7 a.m. in front of the Administration Drive building and fell on the second day of Día de los Muertos, the Latin American holiday that celebrates those who have died with altars, food and music.

Besides honoring undocumented immigrants who have died due to the coronavirus, the 30-plus farmworkers, domestic workers and community organizers who attended the event also remembered family members in other countries who died without being able to see undocumented relatives in the U.S.

Tuesday’s gathering happened about 30 feet from the chambers of the county supervisors. Organizers of the event want supervisors to approve a resolution urging Congress to pass immigration reforms.

Congress continues to work through a $550 billion infrastructure bill and a $1.75 trillion social spending measure, the latter of which Democratic immigration reform advocates hope includes a path to citizenship for the country’s undocumented immigrants.

“(County supervisors) should advocate for the community,” said Renee Saucedo, ALMAS program director. “We need our elected leaders to tell our congressional leaders, ‘This is what we want for our county.’”

Organizers, who raised the demands during a virtual community meeting in early September attended by nearly every Sonoma County board member, are also asking the board to support a list of farmworker wildfire safety protections spearheaded by the nonprofit advocacy group North Bay Jobs with Justice and a set of recommendations for culturally competent disaster responses penned by the North Bay Organizing Project’s Immigrant Defense Task Force.

Sonoma County Board Chair Lynda Hopkins, who briefly attended Tuesday’s event before the start of the board’s public meeting, said she and Supervisor Chris Coursey had met with organizers after September’s event and proposed fast-tracking a portion of a resolution that included support for the federal pathway to legal citizenship for the undocumented.

The other policy recommendations regarding farmworker safety protections and culturally competent disaster response would have to wait until the board had more time to present the issues to the community and hold public discussions about them, Hopkins said.

“I know there’s a sense of urgency, but we also don’t want to rush policy,” Hopkins said.

Saucedo, though, said if there is support for one of the issues, there should be support for them all.

“We didn’t feel comfortable postponing the support with farmworkers and fire disaster response because these issues are just as urgent and impact the very same people,” Saucedo said. “In our mind, if there’s the political will to pass the resolution, they should just pass it.”

Tuesday’s event included singing, chants and the burning of copal, a traditional incense used by Mayan and Aztec civilizations.

One woman spoke about how her husband couldn’t leave the U.S. to visit his family south of the border because he was undocumented. Another shared how she was let go from her job at a preschool because she was undocumented, despite her passion for working with children.

Socorro Díaz, an ALMAS member who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said many undocumented workers were considered essential employees during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, though they have not been treated with the respect they deserve.

“We need to be heard,” Díaz said. “We are paying a price (for living in the U.S.).”

Hopkins said she hopes to bring the issues spelled out in the organizers’ resolution before the board next year.

Last month, she and Supervisor James Gore also said they planned to ask their colleagues to set aside federal COVID-19 relief dollars to boost workers’ safety during wildfires in response to the farmworker safety demands made by the North Bay Jobs with Justice group.

“I’m really excited to move forward with these issues at the board,” Hopkins said.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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