Amid rising infections, the Biden administration has stepped up efforts to vaccinate immigrants in U.S. government custody against the coronavirus, but thousands of detainees have refused vaccination, according to federal data shared with Congress and obtained by CBS News.
As of this week, 22,000 immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine — a 167% increase from early July, whenhad been administered. Six thousand immigrants in ICE custody have so far declined to be vaccinated, according to the figures.
The increased vaccination efforts — and the significant refusal rate — come as coronavirus infections continue to surge inside ICE detention facilities, where the detainee population has ballooned to 25,000, a 70% increase since the start of the Biden administration.
In the past six weeks, ICE has reported over 5,000 new coronavirus cases among detainees, according to an analysis of agency data. As of Friday, nearly 1,400 detainees were being monitored or isolated after testing positive for the virus.
Since the start of the pandemic, ICE has reported over 24,000 COVID-19 infections among immigrants in its custody, as well as 10 coronavirus-related deaths. Earlier this month, Elba Maria Centeno Briones, a 37-year-old asylum-seeker from Nicaragua, died in ICE custody after testing positive for the coronavirus.
ICE confirmed the figures obtained by CBS News, saying that over 20,000 vaccinations had been administered to detainees as of August 8. The agency said 5,958 immigrants in ICE detention facilities have refused vaccination as of August 6.
“ICE remains committed to applying (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance and providing vaccine education that ensures those in our care and custody can make an informed choice during this global pandemic,” Corey Price, who oversees ICE’s detention and deportation division, said in a statement to CBS News.
Vaccination inside ICE detention centers increased after Judge Jesus Bernal of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles directed the agency in late June to offer vaccines to all detained immigrants with chronic medical conditions or those over the age of 55 — a plan government lawyers initially said was “not logistically possible.”