Jul 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

30% of immigrants in ICE custody have refused a coronavirus vaccine

A prisoner shines a torch from the main ICE detention center in downtown Los Angeles, California
A prisoner shines a torch from the main ICE detention center in downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Three in 10 immigrants in U.S. detention centers are saying no to the COVID-19 vaccine, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Vaccine hesitancy among detained immigrants has added an unlikely twist to the challenges of a pandemic-era increase in border migration.

By the numbers: ICE did not provide the exact numbers of immigrants who were offered the shot but declined. But the 30% figure has been shared internally, according to sources familiar.

  • There have been nearly 20,000 COVID-19 cases and nine deaths among ICE detainees , according to agency data. There are currently more than 900 confirmed cases.

Between the lines: Public health officials are concerned about groups of Americans — including young people and Republicans — eschewing available shots.

  • One ICE official said immigrants have refused the shot for many of the same reasons as Americans who do so, including fear of the unknown.

The big picture: Some Democrats and advocates have been urging the Biden administration to do more to ensure that migrants who cross the border, or other immigrants in government custody, are protected from the virus.

  • ICE recently began distributing an initial allotment of 10,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. More than 9,500 doses have been distributed so far, according to internal data provided to Axios.
  • The agency has also been working with state agencies to provide vaccines to immigrants.

What they're saying: "The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues its vaccination efforts to include voluntary vaccinations for individuals in the care and custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)," an ICE spokesperson told Axios.

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