Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) won’t conduct enforcement operations at or near coronavirus vaccine distribution sites or other health care facilities, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on Monday.
“DHS and its Federal government partners fully support equal access to the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine distribution sites for undocumented immigrants,” a statement read.
“It is a moral and public health imperative to ensure that all individuals residing in the United States have access to the vaccine. DHS encourages all individuals, regardless of immigration status, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once eligible under local distribution guidelines.”
Both ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), DHS said, wouldn’t carry out enforcement operations “at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.”
The announcement came as advocacy groups warned that immigrants in the U.S. may be some of the most difficult people to reach during the national drive to vaccinate the population against the virus.
Some immigrants in the country illegally fear that information taken during vaccinations could be turned over to authorities, and so they may not seek out vaccines, while those who speak little or no English may find it difficult to access shots.
On Inauguration Day, Acting DHS Secretary David Pekoske directed his agencies to “review and reset enforcement policies,” as well as follow President Biden’s controversial decision to halt deportations for 100 days.
“The pause will allow DHS to ensure that its resources are dedicated to responding to the most pressing challenges that the United States faces, including immediate operational challenges at the southwest border in the midst of the most serious global public health crisis in a century,” DHS said at the time.
The previous administration faced criticism for conducting enforcement operations at courthouses.
Part of former President Trump’s pandemic response included Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tamping down on illegal entries at the southern border, something former CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said was critical in containing the virus.
He warned that without limitations on migration, local public health systems could easily be overwhelmed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.