Biden administration to vaccinate migrants at border

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is requiring coronavirus vaccines for some undocumented migrants at the southwest border, a policy...


WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is requiring coronavirus vaccines for some undocumented migrants at the southwest border, a policy change that comes days before the administration’s next review of a public health order that has limited immigration during the pandemic.

Under the plan, authorities will begin vaccinating undocumented migrants without proof of vaccination who are apprehended by border officials, but not deported under the public health order, in seven regions, including San Diego, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley. A description of the plan was shared with The New York Times.

According to instructions given to senior Homeland Security officials on Sunday, if single adults refuse to be vaccinated, they will be detained and subject to deportation proceedings. If they apply for asylum and cannot remain in detention, they will be released with a monitoring device “with strict conditions”. If migrant families refuse vaccination, they will also be given monitoring devices under the same conditions.

The White House has said little about whether it will soon lift the public health order, which the Trump administration put in place at the start of the pandemic. The order, known as Title 42gives border officials the power to turn back migrants seeking to enter the United States so they don’t spread the coronavirus here, a precaution that public health specialists have called useless.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to review whether the rule is still necessary at this stage of the pandemic and issue a decision in the coming days.

The administration’s decision to begin vaccinating some undocumented migrants appears to be an acknowledgment that there are measures other than the public health order that can be taken to minimize the spread of the coronavirus across borders.

A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said that vaccinating immigrants in the department’s custody is a “public health best practice.” The spokesperson did not explain why the department waited so long to implement the practice for undocumented immigrants, many of whom are from Central America. Planning for these vaccinations is ongoing. In Novemberthe administration has put out a request for a short-term contract to provide Covid-19 vaccinations at points along the southwestern border.

Previously, the administration has resisted vaccinating undocumented immigrants, despite multiple proposals from the Department of Homeland Security over the past year on how to do so. President Biden’s domestic policy adviser, Susan Rice, has privately raised concerns that this will encourage more undocumented migrants to attempt to cross the border, according to three current and former government officials with knowledge of the discussions in course, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Noah Gottschalk, head of global policy at Oxfam America, said that argument made little sense.

“Based on our work in the regions and places where people are coming from, it would have absolutely nothing to do with people coming in,” he said. “People have access to vaccines. They come because they are fleeing persecution.

Within the Department of Homeland Security, officials have scheduled Title 42 to end in early April. They expect large crowds of migrants as a result, surpassing the already high number who have crossed undocumented in recent weeks.

Since President Biden took office, the number of migrants crossing the southwestern border has increased dramatically, with many fleeing poverty and persecution. The administration has used the public health rule to deport migrants just over half the time, allowing others with humanitarian exemptions.

Migrant children who arrive at the border without a parent or guardian have been exempted from the rule and allowed entry. The administration has been offering vaccines to eligible migrant children in government shelters for months; Immigration and Customs Enforcement also offers vaccinations to immigrants in detention. And the administration was vaccinate migrant asylum seekers who are waiting in Mexico until the United States makes a decision on their case.

Amesh Adalja, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said vaccinations should have been offered to all undocumented migrants apprehended on US soil.

“There’s no really valid argument for not vaccinating people at the border, especially when our vaccination rates are the lowest they’ve been in the United States and we’re actually throwing the vaccine away at the trash,” Dr Adalja said. “If they don’t, they’d rather put the vaccine in the trash than put it in the arm of a migrant, that’s basically what it’s saying.”

Critics of the order say it is being used to control the influx of undocumented migrants. The Biden administration, which has relied heavily on scientific evidence to justify many other health precautions during the pandemic, has not produced data showing that undocumented migrants play a significant role in the spread of the coronavirus.

In a ruling regarding the use of the policy, a panel of judges from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit noted the lack of data.

“We are not cavalier about the risks of Covid-19. And we would appreciate statements on the record from CDC officials testifying to the effectiveness” of the public health order, the panel wrote earlier this month. “But there isn’t.”

They added, “From a public health perspective, based on the limited record we have, it’s far from clear that the CDC order serves any purpose.”

The White House and Department of Homeland Security have always said the public health order was issued at the sole discretion of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s not a question of immigration policy,” said Alejandro N. Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, on March 17. The CDC determines the need for the order, he said, “on a public health basis, depending on where we are in the arc of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr. Mayorkas pointed to the spread of the variants to other countries. As the number of Covid cases declines in most of the United States, an Omicron subvariant, BA.2, is fueling an increase in cases in Europe and could cause a further increase here, although it does not seem not cause severe generalized illness.

The administration has fought in court to keep the public health order in place for migrant families, even though many are already exempt. The same appeals panel that noted earlier this month that the CDC presented no evidence to justify the order also ruled that the administration could not use it deport families to countries where they risk being persecuted or tortured.

The attorneys were supposed to file a status update last week, but instead asked for an extension until the CDC decides to keep the rule in place.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed report.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden administration to vaccinate migrants at border
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