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Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Tex.) Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some Democrats representing border districts want President Biden to vaccinate migrants crossing into the U.S. — especially if he lifts public health restrictions that have prevented them from claiming asylum on American soil.

Why it matters: Inoculating migrants treads a fine line of protecting the U.S. population while possibly incentivizing more migration with the offer of free COVID-19 vaccines. Republicans are likely to pounce on that.

  • “It would be silly not to give the migrants access to the vaccines," said Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Tex.), who represents the Brownsville area. “It would protect the migrants, and our communities, against the virus."
  • “I have been pushing to vaccinate kids, older kids, who have the ability to give consent, on the American side of the border,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.), who represents the El Paso area. “It’s in our interest.”
  • "The answer is not, as Biden and [Vice President Kamala] Harris want, to let everybody in and then let everybody go," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). "The answer is not open borders; the answer is to secure the border and enforce our laws."

Decisions about how to distribute the vaccines have largely been left to the states, an administration official noted.

  • Nonetheless, earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services "began distributing COVID-19 vaccines to eligible unaccompanied children, per CDC guidance, with the goal of ensuring the health and well-being of every possible child in our care," according to a department spokesperson.
  • "Our efforts follow robust conversations with state partners to identify the best paths forward for vaccine distribution."

The big picture: Biden retained a policy enacted by President Trump that prevented migrant adults and families from seeking asylum in the U.S. under a so-called Title 42 public health restriction aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

  • From Oct. 1 to the end of May, Border Patrol agents used that rule to expel about 650,000 migrant families, children and adults.
  • Biden is looking to end the use of Title 42 as soon as mid-July, Axios has reported.
  • That would allow migrants to seek asylum after crossing into the U.S. — rather than being immediately expelled to Mexico when reaching the border. Many would be released into the U.S. while awaiting hearings.

Vaccines currently are available to anyone in the U.S., regardless of their immigration status.

  • Vela broached the idea of vaccinating migrants, as well as nonessential visitors, during an interview with Axios.
  • He previously announced he will not seek re-election next year.
  • Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) agreed with Vela's idea. "Yes, they should be vaccinated. Why wouldn't they? I don't understand who would advocate that they should not be."

Driving the news: Harris plans to visit the El Paso region Friday.

  • Border Patrol chief Rodney Scott also told colleagues Wednesday he’ll step aside in about 60 days so the administration “can place the person they want in the position.”
  • Scott was a Trump administration holdover.

Go deeper: The White House announced in March it would send 2.5 million vaccine doses to Mexico, with plans to distribute millions more throughout Central America through the COVAX international distribution system.

  • This week, El Paso city officials started to vaccinate some Mexican truckers who make frequent border crossings.
  • Vela also wants to use excess vaccines — specifically, the single-dose Johnson & Johnson variant — for anyone from Mexico who crosses the border for nonessential travel, once that fully resumes.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information about the Department of Health and Human Service's vaccination efforts for eligible children in its care.

Go deeper

Updated 34 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February
  2. Vaccines: Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker
Oct 1, 2021 - Health

Louisiana health system to charge employees with unvaccinated partners

Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The largest health care system in Louisiana will charge its employees $200 a month if a spouse or domestic partner covered under its health plan is not vaccinated against the coronavirus, NOLA reports.

Why it matters: The new rule, which will take effect in 2022, comes as the vast majority of coronavirus patients who end up hospitalized are unvaccinated.

Oct 1, 2021 - Health

North Dakota hospitals reaching critical capacity

Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) and medical officials are urging the public to help reduce the need for hospitalizations as hospitals are at "redline capacity."

Driving the news: North Dakota's six largest hospitals reported 43 patients were sent to other facilities and 29 patients were waiting in emergency departments to be admitted, the state announced Friday.

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