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By Briana Gomez


May 25, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) -- The capsizing of a boat filled with undocumented immigrants a few weeks ago off San Diego’s coastline raised questions about immigration policies in Southern California. At least three people died and 23 were injured in the incident. Eight of the migrants were taken in for treatment at the Sharp Healthcare system; some were at Sharp Grossmont in La Mesa.

The same week, ECM reported on a meeting of the East County Peoples Forum which addressed concerns over vaccine distribution in the immigrant communities as well as the proposed redistricting of El Cajon.

ECM recently sat down with Dr. Nancy Maldonado, CEO and President of the Chicano Federation to get her feedback on the state of immigration and issues impacting local immigrants.

“I think that the attention [the capsized boat is] receiving is more than what normally happens but in terms of the number of immigrants arriving at the border, we’ve seen this before. So it’s great that people are paying attention and it’s great that it has this heightened awareness, but I think it’s important to put it in context and say this is not unique, this is not remarkable,” said Maldonado.

A spokesperson for Sharp said that all eight patients in their system had been released but the spokesperson did not comment on their whereabouts.

Maldonado said she did not believe that the immigrants would be able to stay in the United States.

“This isn’t the only catastrophe that we’ve seen recently. We’ve seen vehicle crashes and they weren’t granted the ability to stay in the United States so my understanding is that these people will not be either unfortunately,” said Maldonado. 

Neither the hospitals nor law enforcement departments reached out to the Chicano Federation regarding the health and safety of these particular individuals. 

Maldonado holds a doctorate in public health from the University of California San Diego and her concern for the health of the Mexican American and Latinx community is a priority for the Chicano Federation.

Many undocumented immigrants were forced to work during the quarantine because they were ineligible for unemployment and other funds that were offered to the community. 

The Chicano Federation has stepped in with the hope of bridging some of that gap by offering flexible financial assistance to undocumented families impacted by COVID-19.

Maldonado is also concerned about access to vaccines for undocumented and other marginalized Latinos in San Diego. 

Compounded with a lack of access to healthcare and transportation, there has also been a fear mongering campaign around the novel COVID-19 vaccines, especially in minority communities that already have mistrust toward any contact with state officials.

“They are supposed to be available to everybody and they’re not supposed to be asked that type of information, but unfortunately you’ll have a story or two that will come out where people are asked about their citizenship status and that’s in dribble effects and that in turn scares people and makes them want to stay away and not get the vaccine,” said Maldonado.

“There is some very real residual fear from the last administration,” Maldonado said of former President Donald Trump’s harsh policies toward immigrants. “It was very deliberate fear instilled into the community.” 

Not only are undocumented communities afraid of being outed at vaccine sites, but people as a whole are often afraid of the vaccine itself. 

“There’s a lot of misinformation…and as you can imagine, misinformation travels very quickly,” Maldonado concluded; citing the Chicano Federation’s presence at vaccine sites, radio campaigns, and informative materials that are put out into the community.

The organization also has a youth ambassador program where Latinx youth can talk about why they received the vaccine and its safety.

The Chicano Federation is also co-hosting a Zoom event this Wednesday, May 26, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. The same event is offered in Spanish on Thursday. It is free to the public and attendees can register here.

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