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Are Immigrants in Pennsylvania Struggling to Get The Vaccine?

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Gavel and Passport

Pennsylvania is on pace to aggressively inoculate most of its citizens. However, there is a significant segment of that population that is having a difficult time obtaining the vaccine. Immigrants throughout Pennsylvania believe that they are facing mounting obstacles that prohibit them from receiving the vaccine. This can pose a serious risk to the rest of the country as many immigrants work in agriculture where they are unable to socially distance as well as others.

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 17 percent of workers in agriculture are undocumented, and about 10 percent of restaurant workers are noncitizen immigrants nationwide. In some major cities, up to 40 percent of restaurant workers are undocumented. With these workers pressed together, the risk of an outbreak among this population is high. There is a need to vaccinate everyone, but states like Pennsylvania are finding it difficult to inoculate the entire population.

Why are Immigrants Failing to Make Vaccination Appointments?

Several factors are getting in the way of immigrants scheduling vaccine appointments. The language barrier is a primary one. State and local governments have been slow to provide multilingual documents for those who do not speak English.

There has been progress on that front with cities like Philadelphia releasing vaccination sign-up forms in multiple languages. The city’s version comes in five languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and French. In addition, the local health department has attempted to reach out to the immigrant communities using a trusted ambassador who can spread the word and help sign people up for vaccination appointments. While the local governments have been making efforts, local organizations and networks are helping within their own communities. Advocates are working hard to schedule appointments for their friends and neighbors.

Technology has also hindered immigrants in their effort to get vaccinated. States and vaccination sites have relied solely on websites and other electronic communications to sign people up for appointments. However, there is a lack of access to these devices within the immigrant community.

The vaccine rollout has not been handled well in Pennsylvania with a disparate number of people receiving the much-needed shots. Philadelphia has demonstrated poor marks in the number of minorities it has vaccinated based on their population in the city. For instance, the city has only vaccinated about four percent of all Latinos in the city even though they represent almost 15 percent of the overall city population, according to the most recent census. Other minorities have seen similar discrepancies with only 20 of black residents receiving the vaccine even though they make up nearly half of the city’s population.

What Problems are Undocumented Workers Having with the Vaccine?

Those immigrants who have entered the country illegally and fear deportation have been reluctant to step forward to take the vaccine for a variety of reasons. There is a growing worry among them that receiving the vaccination will lead to scrutiny from immigration officials. Despite assurances that will not happen, many are not convinced.

Many immigrants are also worried about their chance of becoming a legal permanent resident will be affected after accepting government-funded benefits, like the vaccine. Current law prohibits undocumented workers from becoming legal permanent residents if they are a public charge. The federal government classifies a person as a public charge if they participate in a government-funded program, such as a vaccine.

The federal government has made efforts to assure undocumented immigrants that they will not be arrested when they get vaccinated. In February, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement explicitly saying that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agencies will not conduct any enforcement operations near vaccine distribution sites or clinics.

The statement reiterated the move is part of ICE’s long-standing policy of respecting sensitive locations. The enforcement unit does not conduct any raids or arrests at such locations, including hospitals, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

The COVID-19 virus spreads from person-to-person regardless of their immigration status. Experts warn that if undocumented immigrants are not included in the extensive vaccination program, then it can affect everyone.

What Other Problems are Immigrants Encountering?

Philadelphia’s rollout of the vaccination was widely criticized for its inefficiencies and its failures to properly organize its distribution. When failures like that occur, it opens the door for other problems. The Philly Fighting COVID (PFC), which was run by a group of recent college graduates, launched in the early days of the pandemic. It first started operating testing centers in low-income communities before opening a vaccination distribution clinic in early January ahead of the city. The center was opened in cooperation with the city’s Department of Public Health.

PFC began registering people for vaccinations except it was not abiding by any plan or schedule issued by the city in terms of priority. Anyone who was able to make an appointment obtained a vaccination regardless of their status. The group managed to sign-up 60,000 people with a significant portion coming from immigrant and other low-income communities.

However, when the city opened its own vaccination center, it was announced that those who signed up with the PFC site would not be honored. Soon after, questions began to arise with how PFC was operating behind the scenes, and within a few weeks of opening its vaccination site, the entire company shut down. The sudden move affected thousands of people who had signed up for a vaccination with PFC.

Some organizations made it difficult for the immigration population to get vaccinations. The city has improved on its system, and overall, the vaccination centers throughout the state are improving. It is important for the entire population to get vaccinated. If one is experiencing issues with their legal status during the ongoing pandemic, it is important to speak to an immigration lawyer.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Represent Immigrants Ignored by the System

Getting basic needs for your family, such as health care and other medical treatments, can be difficult especially if you do not have a legal status in the United States. The Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. represent clients looking to become U.S. citizens. We can help you through this complicated process. Call us at 215-925-4435 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and nationwide.