Homeland Security officials said Immigration and Customs Enforcement would not conduct enforcement at vaccine distribution sites, according to a news release.
As part of the government’s efforts to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible, DHS announced ICE and U.S. Border Patrol agents would not pick people up at the various sites across the country.
DHS went on to encourage all people, regardless of immigration status, to go get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“DHS and its Federal government partners fully support equal access to the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine distribution sites for undocumented immigrants. It is a moral and public health imperative to ensure that all individuals residing in the United States have access to the vaccine,” the DHS release stated.
“DHS carries out its mission, including all areas within its COVID-19 response, without discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, or other protected class, and in compliance with law and policy.”
The announcement comes at a time when the Biden administration is putting in place new leadership at the agency that runs U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol. It’s also at a time when the administration is attempting to initiate change at the agencies after four years of strict immigration policy under the Trump administration.
DHS additionally stated that consistent with their “long-standing sensitive locations policy,” ICE will not enforce operations at or near health care facilities” — including hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergency or urgent care facilities, the news release stated.
Despite the policy, there is justification for fear on the part of the undocumented community.
Under the Trump administration, immigration advocates decried several instances over the course of the last four years of people who lacked immigration status being picked up at scheduled court hearings.
In February 2020, in just one such documented incident, the Associated Press reported that ICE arrested two people at a Sonoma County Courthouse in Northern California without an arrest warrant.
That incident was one of several that resulted in a chilling effect on the undocumented persons community at large during the course of the Trump’s administration, regarding legal and illegal immigration in the country.
Just last month, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse released a report that showed a backlog of nearly 1.3 million immigration cases pending.
The Biden administration takes over deportation cases that just four years earlier stood at nearly 550,000, to now more than a million cases.
At the time Biden took office, on Jan. 20, there were more than 1,290,766 deportation cases pending before the immigration courts — more than two times the number of cases when Trump took office in January 2017 with roughly 542,411 people with cases before the courts, according to a report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
TRAC stated in its report that the average wait for a court hearing date is now 1,642 days — more than four and a half years.
This data also represents the number of people who are left vulnerable to ICE enforcement.
DHS said it’s committed to ensuring that every individual who needs a vaccine can get one, regardless of their immigration status.
“DHS supports the equitable and efficient distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to all populations, including historically underserved communities,” the release stated.