US vaccinates 20,000 immigrants detained at border as part of massive operation

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McAllen, Texas — The US government has vaccinated more than 20,000 immigrants and asylum seekers in US border surveillance since launching a massive COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the US. end of MarchThe top doctor in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told CBS News.

During an interview this week, Dr. Pritesh Gandhi chief paramedic At DHS, he said as many as 1,000 immigrants are vaccinated every day at 24 processing facilities on the US-Mexico border as part of one of the government’s largest medical initiatives for undocumented individuals in US custody.

“This is something I believe is historic, because we’re building a healthcare system along the entire southwestern border,” Gandhi told CBS News on Tuesday during his immigration trip, with the holding headquarters in McAllen, Texas, one of the sites offering vaccines.

immigrants who were not deported under a pandemic period rule known as Title 42 COVID-19 vaccines are offered while in the custody of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), who temporarily hold them, usually for no more than 72 hours, before transferring, releasing or deporting them.

Gandhi said the “overwhelming majority” of immigrants prefer to be vaccinated, saying that those who cannot show evidence of previous vaccination are advised to get one while under CBP supervision. He added that the rate of vaccine refusal among immigrants detained at the border is “low youth”.

Gandhi said the counseling was done in the immigrant’s native language and included information about the benefits of the vaccine. Gandhi added that US border surveillance is offering booster vaccines to immigrants who have already been vaccinated.

Immigrants prepare to receive their COVID-19 vaccines at a border facility in McAllen, Texas, Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

Nicole Sganga / CBS News

Earlier this year, DHS officials said immigrants who refuse vaccination could be transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers or released with “stricter parole conditions” such as ankle monitors. But Gandhi said immigrants should not view the vaccine effort and the counseling around it as a “punitive measure”.

“I don’t think immigrants should be afraid,” Gandhi said when asked about those who refuse to be vaccinated. “I think immigrants should understand that in the US we set certain standards for the American people. My kids had to get vaccinated before they went to school.”

DHS officials evaluated It has been offering COVID-19 vaccines to immigrants at the U.S. border since at least summer 2021, when the department recommended vaccinating adult members of immigrant families. But that interior plan, reported It was blocked by CBS News last November by senior White House officials.

Before the large-scale CBP immunization campaign began in late March, vaccinations for immigrants in US custody were limited to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shelters for unaccompanied minors and long-term ICE detention centers.

Although the border immunization program started with single migrant adults, it has since expanded to families traveling with young children, and Gandhi said they get vaccinated if they’re eligible.

Gandhi noted that border vaccines are not just designed to protect the health of immigrants, and that efforts are also protecting US border personnel and American communities.

“If we can get people to get their first dose here and provide some protection, we can ensure that hospital beds are not used in towns that might need this extra bed,” Gandhi said. .

Gandhi said he hopes DHS will also be able to offer flu vaccines to migrants at border processing facilities later this year, with public health experts and advocates making a move. sue for years.

At the McAllen immigration detention facility, officially known as the Central Processing Center, a group of adult immigrants patiently queued up to receive a dose of vaccine administered by nurses contracted by the federal government. Immigrants carried CDC vaccination cards for nurses to fill out.

Immigrants prepare to receive their COVID-19 vaccines at a border facility in McAllen, Texas, Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

Nicole Sganga / CBS News

After vaccination, the immigrants were instructed to sit outside the cinder block cells, which could each hold dozens of adults. Gandhi said that all immigrants who had been injected were monitored for 30 minutes to make sure they did not show any symptoms that might require medical attention.

After the monitoring period was complete, Gandhi said, Border Patrol officials decided whether the immigrants would be released with a notice to appear in immigration court and tracking devices, placed in an expedited deportation process known as expedited removal, or sent to long-term ICE. detention facilities.

The Central Processing Center reopened earlier this spring after more than a year of renovations, including the removal of chain-link fence-divided holding areas accused of being “cages” during the Trump administration.

Chain link holding areas have been replaced by cinder block cells with large windows, reminiscent of traditional Border Patrol stations. Border Patrol officials said cells containing televisions, Mylar blankets, metal benches, fountains and toilets were cleaned and sanitized three times a day.

Migrant adults held at the McAllen processing center on Tuesday, most of them wearing face masks, are held in sex-segregated cells for men and women.

The effort to vaccinate immigrants at border facilities is the latest vaccination campaign for newly arrived immigrants under the Biden administration. Last year, Gandhi oversaw an effort to vaccinate tens of thousands of people. Afghan evacuations against coronavirus, measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox.

Under special sponsorship program Gandhi said that Ukrainian refugees created by the Biden administration will also need proof of prior vaccination against COVID-19 and other diseases to enter the United States.

DHS officials have previously cited the border vaccination campaign as one of the ways to prepare for the end of Title 42, the policy first implemented by the Trump administration that allows US officials to deport immigrants without processing their asylum claims.

Title 42, which the government claims is necessary to prevent immigrants from spreading the coronavirus at border facilities, will expire next week, but a federal judge in Louisiana has can force The Biden administration will continue that.

On Tuesday, Gandhi said the migrant vaccination operation “had nothing to do with Title 42”.

“It coincides with where Title 42 is now. But the genesis of this program and planning for it has been around for some time,” he said.