House Minority Whip Steve Scalise slammed the Biden administration Tuesday for encouraging undocumented immigrants to get the COVID-19 vaccine, calling it a “slap in the face” to Americans waiting for their own shots.
The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement Monday encouraging “all individuals, regardless of immigration status” to receive a COVID-19 vaccine once eligible. The department also promised that immigration agents would not conduct enforcement actions at or near vaccine distribution centers.
The announcement came several days after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the administration wanted undocumented immigrants to have access to the vaccine because it is “morally right” and “ensures that people in the country are also safe.”
On Tuesday, Scalise, R-La., called on President Joe Biden to “abandon this ridiculous plan and instead focus on getting the elderly, the vulnerable, frontline workers, and other essential Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
“President Biden’s plan to vaccinate illegal immigrants ahead of Americans who are currently being denied the COVID-19 vaccine is a slap in the face to millions of hard-working families who have been waiting months for the vaccine and expect Washington leaders to be looking out for them,” Scalise said in a statement.
The Homeland Security statement did not call for undocumented immigrants to be vaccinated ahead of U.S. citizens.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, the new chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a medical doctor who also has a public health degree, stressed that people need to have access to vaccines regardless of citizenship status to curb the spread of the disease.
“Rep. Scalise’s cruel politicization of this sentiment is a stupid public health approach that not only will prolong the pandemic but will endanger everyone’s health,” the California Democrat told CQ Roll Call.
Ruiz and a large group of other House Democrats are continuing their push to include a path to legal status for undocumented essential workers in a coronavirus relief package. Approximately 5 million undocumented immigrants have served as essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic, including more than 330,000 immigrants with temporary protections.
According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, immigrants make up 17 percent of employees in the country, but 22 percent of workers in the U.S. food supply chain. These occupations can leave employees more susceptible to contracting COVID-19, such as in meatpacking plants, which rely on immigrant labor and have been a center for coronavirus outbreaks.
The House released a blueprint reconciliation bill on Monday that did not include immigration protections for essential workers. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, in a statement on Twitter, called the exclusions “disappointing” and promised to continue pressing for the provisions.
Efforts to pass standalone immigration reform in the Senate, where Democrats hold the slimmest majority, could prove an uphill battle. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the former Gang of Eight, a bipartisan coalition of senators who attempted to pass immigration reform in 2013, called on the Senate to prioritize coronavirus relief over revisions to the immigration system.
“We should prioritize the most urgent problems facing Americans first,” Rubio said in a statement Tuesday. “More vaccines, COVID relief, policies that will help create good American jobs and confronting the threat from China are all more important right now than immigration reform.”