Posted on January 12, 2021

Fear of Deportation Prompts Undocumented Immigrants to Resist COVID-19 Vaccine

Tori Bedford, GBH, January 5, 2021

Immigrants across Massachusetts have resisted getting the COVID-19 vaccine out of fear of deportation or others legal consequences, according to lawyers, activists and community leaders.

“We have been fielding phone calls from individuals who are concerned that they will be deported if they get a vaccine,” Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, of Lawyers for Civil Rights, told GBH News. “We have been advising individuals and families that they absolutely must make themselves available for testing and vaccination and that these activities will not trigger immigration consequences, but the harm has already been done. The misconceptions exist.”

It would be illegal for medical officials to share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But such concerns are still likely to hurt a public vaccination campaign, Espinoza-Madrigal says, which could compromise the wider population’s ability to reach herd immunity.

“(It’s) not because immigrants are trying to be difficult but because the Trump administration has created such tremendous fear and insecurity in immigrant communities that the trust has been broken,” Espinoza-Madrigal said. “It’s going to take a significant effort from public health officials and local governments to fill that trust gap so that immigrants can come forth for vaccination.”

In January of last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could enact a “public charge” rule against documented immigrants who use federal resources, allowing the government to block their applications for permanent residency, also known as a green card. That’s caused many immigrants to resist accepting CARES Act benefits or signing up for federally-funded COVID-19 tests or vaccines, according to Amy Grunder, director of legislative affairs at the MIRA Coalition.

“People are afraid,” Grunder told GBH News. “They think that if there’s some possibility of securing a path to citizenship, they don’t want this to get in the way.”

Last February, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services excluded COVID-19 testing and treatment from the public charge rule, encouraging “all those, including aliens, with symptoms that resemble coronavirus … to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services.”

“Such treatment or preventive services will not negatively affect any alien as part of a future public charge analysis,” the update reads.

Immigrants served by the MIRA coalition have also expressed fears that information shared at a vaccination site may be leaked to ICE and may lead to a deportation, even though medical privacy laws would prevent such information sharing, Grunder said.