Edwin Carmona-Cruz, 415-933-4922,, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice  
Elaina Vermeulen, 415-748-5728,, Centro Legal de la Raza

March 18, 2020

Immigration Detainees: Life-Saving Vaccines Should Not Come At The Expense of Liberty
Immigrants in detention and advocates express frustration towards the false choice presented by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”).

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA — On March 15, 2021, the State of California began the inclusion of immigrants in detention in the state’s vaccination plan. Following this announcement,  immigrants detained at three of California’s detention facilities have started to receive the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine this week. This roll-out has been met with frustration from detained immigrants who have received little information with respect to the vaccine and do not trust ICE with its administration. 

Immigrants who have been detained during the deadly pandemic in facilities that have been the scene of COVID outbreaks and subpar medical care repeatedly expressed mistrust of their jailors, noting that they would be reluctant to receive the vaccine directly from ICE or the for-profit prison companies that operate these facilities. Until now detained immigrants have received little information on how the vaccine works, and how it might affect people with underlying conditions. 

“They don’t give us enough information to decide to take it or not take it. I see that people are not taking it because of that,” said Enrique Cristobal, who is detained at Golden State Annex in McFarland. “They are not responsible, they are not ethical and they keep putting our lives at risk.”

In addition, detainees and advocates warn that ICE may use vaccinations as the justification for prolonged or expanded detention, arguing that those who receive the vaccine should not be considered for release. This false dichotomy must be challenged and categorically rejected. ICE must not be allowed to force those detained to choose between receiving a life-saving vaccine, or forfeiting their legal case for release. 

Research in the Journal of the American Medical Association has estimated that 90 of the 100 largest COVID-19 cluster outbreaks have taken place in carceral settings like detention facilities. While advocates must remain focused on dismantling and ending the totality of ICE’s detention system, this strategy must not come at the expense of providing those in detention with the same vaccine access as other members of our society. 

“Granted that it’s safe, the majority of us welcome the vaccine, but all of us are concerned because being vaccinated seems to threaten the likelihood of us being released during this pandemic,” said Javier Vazquez, detained at the Yuba County Jail. “Our chances will be, if not reduced, taken away from being released from these confined living quarters. We feel we’re made to choose between getting a life-saving vaccine or keeping our chances of freedom. We hope that this vaccine doesn’t permit the repopulation of detention centers that have proven to be deadly time and time again.”

Se debe tomar en cuenta que la vacuna ayuda a una liberación segura. Me permitiría regresar con seguridad a mi familia y comunidad sin el riesgo de exponer a otros con COVID-19. El juez debería verlo de esa manera.”

“The vaccine should be taken into consideration as helping a safe release. It would allow me to safely return to my family and community without the risk of spreading COVID. The judge should see it that way,” said E. V. detained at Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield.

Immigrants detained at Mesa Verde Detention Facility, Golden State Annex, and the Yuba County Jail issue the following demands:

  • An assessment for release of every individual regardless of vaccinations;
  • Local County Public Health Department and medical professionals not associated with ICE or The GEO Group, Inc., should provide:
    • Information in multiple languages; 
    • Individual consultation to screen for underlying medical conditions and other complexities; and 
    • Administration of COVID-19 vaccines.