GOP governor says undocumented workers don't need COVID vaccine

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Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts claimed that only 'legal' residents could work in meatpacking plants, meaning undocumented people would not be able to get the vaccine under his rollout plan.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) claimed baselessly on Monday that meatpacking plants in his state do not employ undocumented workers, so plans to vaccinate employees for COVID-19 would not include people with that immigration status.

"You're supposed to be a legal resident of the country to be able to be working in those plants, so I do not expect that illegal immigrants will be part of that [vaccination program]," Ricketts told reporters.

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In reality, the meatpacking industry employs thousands of undocumented workers.

The Migration Policy Institute has reported that anywhere from 14% to 50% of the immigrants working at meatpacking plants across the country, in a population of nearly 470,000 people, are undocumented. In Nebraska alone, there are around 60,000 undocumented immigrants, according to the most recent Census data; around 66% of meat and poultry workers, the Migration Policy Institute reported, are immigrants.

The group estimated that at many plants, undocumented people made up the "majority" of immigrant workers.

As the American Immigration Council notes, undocumented workers in the state also paid more than $100 million in combined federal, state, and local taxes in 2018.

COVID-19 outbreaks have plagued the meatpacking industry, where workers operate in close quarters in enclosed buildings, a situation that contributes to spread of the virus.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who was appointed by Donald Trump, has advocated for undocumented people to be included in vaccination programs.

"No one should be denied a shot in the arm due to their documentation status," he told CBS' "Face the Nation" in December.

Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, recently told USA Today that states should vaccinate everyone, regardless of status.

"Vaccines are one of those things we make available no matter if you’re a winter visitor or if you’re visiting from another country," Christ said. "We want to make sure we're protecting everybody."

Of course, the virus infects people regardless of immigration or other societal status. Millions of people in the United States have been infected and over 353,000 have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Leading Democrats have been pushing for the vaccine to be provided to undocumented immigrants.

"Every person in the country, whether they're documented or undocumented, should have access to a vaccine," President-elect Joe Biden said in a forum held in August by the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

In December, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), along with a coalition of civic groups, also called on the federal government to dedicate resources to distributing the vaccine to undocumented communities.

"If undocumented Americans are dissuaded from participating in the vaccination program, it would jeopardize both their health and the efficacy of the entire vaccination program," Cuomo wrote.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.