WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Latino activists and community leaders held a public prayer Saturday afternoon in front of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County to remember and honor the lives of immigrant farmworkers who died because of COVID-19.
Many in attendance were Guatemalan indigenous immigrants, Mayans, who wore their traditional hand-woven skirts.
The names of migrant farm workers who died because of the coronavirus were read out loud as a traditional Mayan procession made its way in front of the Palm Beach County Health Department. The executive director of the Guatemalan-Maya Center Father Frank O’Laughlin couldn’t hold back the tears.
“All of my life I’ve been saying to people when you meet an undocumented farmworkers, give them your hand. you’re in the company of heroes,” said O’Laughlin.
The procession and public prayer is the latest effort by these advocates to prioritize farm workers to receive the vaccine. Father O’Laughlin said there have been several things that have worked against them.
“That the state of Florida with one breath said these are essential workers, and with another breath it says no access for non-residents. We have an old Florida stunt, which is to withhold status of residents from the workers. So it has maintained the workers defenseless,” said O’Laughlin.
Palm Beach County Health Department’s Director Dr. Alina Alonso was one of the speakers and helped found the Guatemalan-Maya Center. Alonso said the a majority of undocumented immigrants and Latinos will soon qualify once the age elgibility lowers come next week and next month.
“I am very hopeful and Father Frank used the analogy of Spring, a new beginning. We have done great things here in Palm Beach County to increase the number of vaccines that will be available and to the future. So I am very cautiously optimistic,” said Alonso.
She said in the beginning of any new vaccination plan, supply and demand is always a factor.
"We're still in between stage one and two. So we still have limited vaccines. It is a matter of being patient, and it's hard to do. But it's understandable," Alonso said. "People have to understand now that we drop it to 40, there will be a lot more people wanting the vaccine. So be patient, be kind to one another. We will eventually have enough vaccines to vaccinate everybody who wants a vaccine."
Dr. Alonso encourages the immigrant community to seek assistance by various organizations to help them get vaccinated.
“For years, homeless and other people that don’t have all the documents, can have agencies document for them and verify that they do live here,” said Alonso.
The county health department plans to open a vaccine clinic off Lake Worth Road to help reach the undocumented community.
The event was put on by the Guatemalan-Maya Center of Lake Worth along with the American Friends Service Committee in Florida and the Farmworker Association of Florida.