LA Times Op-Ed: Hard Hit ICE Detention Facilities are Being Left Behind in COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

On February 15th, 2021, the Los Angeles Times published an important op-ed from Bill Ong Hing, a professional of law at the University of San Francisco, and Hamid Yazdan Panah, an advocacy director for Immigration Defense Advocates, an organization focused on ending the policies that detain and dehumanize people in immigrant communities. They raise an important issue in their article: Immigrant detainees are largely being left out of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

ICE-Run Immigration Detention Facilities Saw Devastating COVID-19 Outbreaks

No one has been spared from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC has confirmed more than 27.7 million cases nationwide and suspects that more than 100 million people may have been infected given inadequate testing. According to data provided by the County of Los Angeles Public Health, more than 19,000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 in Los Angeles County alone.

Some of the largest outbreaks of the virus occurred in the confines of detention centers operated by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or by private contractors working with the agency. It got so bad that a California federal judge had to order ICE to release vulnerable detainees to protect them from COVID-19.

The Los Angeles Times op-ed includes a startling statistic that emphasizes the scope of the problem: “The coronavirus rate among immigrants in ICE detention centers nationwide is 13 times the rate of the general U.S. population.” Considering how hard the U.S. as a whole was hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, the disparity is breathtaking.

The Vaccine Rollout is Finally Picking Up Steam—But Immigrants are Being Left Behind

After a sluggish start, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is starting to pick up steam. Last week, the U.S. hit its record for the number of vaccine shots administered in a single day. Unfortunately, there are serious concerns about the equity of the distribution of vaccines. Public health officials have long worried that undocumented immigrants may struggle to get access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

For those currently being held in ICE custody during a devastating global pandemic, the situation is even more precarious. As explained in the LA Times op-ed, a representative of ICE recently announced that the agency will take no role in ensuring that detainees are vaccinated in its facilities, saying instead that “it would be up to states to decide when and how to vaccinate individuals in the agency’s custody.

Yet, last month, a representative of California’s Community Vaccine Advisory Committee told reporters that vaccine distribution in ICE detention centers is up to the “federal government.” Immediate action is needed at both the state and federal level to resolve the confusion and improve distribution of the vaccine.

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