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For the safety of all, vaccinations should be mandatory at ICE detention centers

A surge in COVID-19 at ICE facilities is a deadly problem that need not be, especially when vaccines are so easily accessible.

Undocumented immigrants
A U.S. Border Patrol agent hands out masks to immigrant families after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday in La Joya, Texas.
John Moore/Getty Images

Undocumented immigrants who cross over into the United States should be required to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

For their sake. For the sake of all those with whom they come in contact, including federal border agents. And for the sake of undercutting a false and scurrilous myth, being pushed right-wing politicians and radio talkers, that immigrants are significantly to blame for the current surge of the virus.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 24,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported among immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers. ICE has responded as of early August by administering more than 20,000 vaccinations — and by encouraging every detained immigrant to vaccinated.

But thousands of detained immigrants have chosen not to get vaccinated, which is unfortunate. At this very moment, almost 1,400 such immigrants are being monitored or isolated after having tested positive for COVID-19. That need not and should not be.

We believe the Biden administration should make the vaccine mandatory for immigrants being held in ICE detention facilities. This editorial page has long championed better treatment and greater rights for undocumented immigrants, on legal and humanitarian grounds, and we urge mandatory vaccinations now in that same spirit. For the good of all.

The sad fact is that some Republican lawmakers, any number of ultra-conservative radio babblers and — ironically — about a third of unvaccinated American citizens blame the current increase in coronavirus infections on undocumented immigrants entering the country.

The reality, as public health experts attest, is that the surge has been greatest in states with pathetically low vaccination rates — whatever the size of their undocumented population — and a hostile attitude toward proven precautions such as masks and social distancing.

Consider, for example, the state of Mississippi, which has seen a 54% spike in infections in the last week and where hospitals are running out of ICU beds. Only 36% of the people of Mississippi are fully vaccinated. Mississippi also has one of the lowest numbers of undocumented immigrants in the country.

As William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, recently told PolitiFact, it is simply absurd to say that unvaccinated immigrants are a major wellspring of the pandemic’s surge.

“The immigration contribution,” Schaffner said, “is akin to pouring a bucket of water into a swimming pool.”

All the same, it remains alarming that some 5,958 detained immigrants, by the most recent count, have refused the vaccine. Though ICE is encouraging one and all to get vaccinated.

We can’t help but imagine the wave of outrage among advocates for immigrants if ICE were not offering the vaccine.

Our nation’s immigrant detention centers are overcrowded and troubled as it is. If there is anywhere COVID-19 should not be allowed to spread freely, it is there.

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