As US rolls out covid-19 vaccine, undocumented immigrants fear arrest for seeking dose
London, Dec. 20, 2020 (AltAfrica)-As the COVID-19 vaccine makes its way throughout the United States, immigration activists and lawmakers are rallying to ensure that the 11 million undocumented immigrants at the heart of the nation’s food production and service industry sectors are not left out.
Over the past four years under President Donald Trump, immigrants have faced everything from raids by immigration enforcement authorities to a Public Charge rule that threatens future citizenship for using public benefits.
As it stands, polls show that roughly 40% of Americans say they won’t get the vaccines, two of which, Pfizer and Moderna, have a very high effectiveness rate but were developed in a record time of under a year. If millions of immigrants also hesitate for other reasons, the virus could linger.
Some Trump administration officials have suggested that providing information such as a birth date, driver’s license or passport number would help track the vaccine rollout and its success. That sort of mandate would freeze out many immigrants, said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a Dec. 1 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Cuomo added that his state would not comply with such a request.
Experts say it is unlikely that health officials will discriminate against undocumented Americans. But after years of isolationist and punitive immigration policies from the Trump administration, many immigrants — whose physical and fiscal health has, along with many people of color, been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic — might be unwilling to come forward and get vaccinated.
“We don’t want to take the risk if it’s going to cause us problems,” such as deportation, says Beatriz Gutierrez, 36, a stay-at-home mother of four ages 9 to 17 in Phoenix. “But otherwise, I am ready to take it.”
In July, her entire family — which includes her partner, who is a landscaper — caught COVID-19. While none were hospitalized, the illness resulted in her partner losing his job and bills piling up.
For Gutierrez, who also had two friends die from the virus that so far has killed nearly 313,000 Americans, the vaccine means a chance for health and job security.
And it should not come with concerns about being put in the crosshairs of immigration officials, said Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.
“Vaccines are one of those things we make available no matter if you’re a winter visitor or if you’re visiting from another country,” said Christ. “We want to make sure we’re protecting everybody.”
COVID-19 has been particularly merciless to Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans for reasons that include poverty, preexisting health conditions and front-line jobs. This demographic includes many immigrants, with the vast majority of those undocumented hailing from Mexico and Central America. Many of them are critical to farming and meatpacking, and their illness and death represent both a human tragedy and an economic blow.
“The vaccine must be fully available to undocumented Americans, if not, it will put all of us at risk,” said Manuel Pastor, head of the Equity Research Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, which uses data and analysis to dissect equity issues.
“Imagine restaurants reopening when you haven’t also included the entire staff in your vaccination efforts,” said Pastor. “Because undocumented residents, due to their work status, our health insurance system, the perceived danger of approaching our government, and economic distress, are less likely to access vaccines, it is imperative that we make them free and deliver them through trusted vehicles.”