Florida Congressional Democrats Seek Equity, Revision of Immigrant Vaccination Roadblocks

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Washington, April 14, 2021 | comments
A group of Florida Congressional Democrats today asked top federal and state officials to address rules around residency requirements in Florida that prevent immigrant populations from accessing vaccines and to remedy this growing disparity and make it possible for greater numbers of the at-risk migrant population to secure vaccinations.
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Washington D.C. – A group of Florida Congressional Democrats today asked top federal and state officials to address rules around residency requirements in Florida that prevent immigrant populations from accessing vaccines and to remedy this growing disparity and make it possible for greater numbers of the at-risk migrant population to secure vaccinations.

The requests – one to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and the other to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alexander Mayorkas and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra – seek to revise the residency roadblocks that prevent farmworkers and other undocumented workers from being inoculated, as well as working with public health experts, local organizations, and consulates to provide vaccines to these vulnerable communities. It is a population that not only has faced increased COVD-19 risks, but one that also serves as a vital link in the food supply for the state and nation. 

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) led a letter, signed by several Florida Congressional Democrats, seeking assistance on this issue from Florida’s governor. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (FL-22) led a similar letter signed by the same lawmakers to federal officials.

“Keeping all Floridians safe in this pandemic means knocking down vaccination roadblocks for our most vulnerable residents,” Wasserman Schultz said. “As vaccine access opens to all adults around the nation, we need to move to ensure stringent residency documents don’t hinder our larger mission of safer and healthier communities.”

“Every person who calls Florida home should have easy access to this lifesaving vaccine in our state,” Deutch said. “If we ignore gaps in access to the vaccine or impose barriers that make those gaps worse, then we are only jeopardizing peoples’ lives and weakening our efforts to end this pandemic and rebuild our economy.” 

The request to DeSantis stressed that the risks for immigrant populations merit immediate action, especially since they are an integral part of the communities in Florida.

“Undocumented immigrants are likely to live in communities where COVID-19 outcomes are more severe and work in jobs that make social distancing difficult. Further, because migrant farmworkers and their families travel to work in Florida, they may be increasing the spread of the virus across state lines,” the letter from lawmakers to DeSantis states. “These individuals live in, work in, and interact in our communities, and without proper access to vaccines, these populations may exacerbate community spread, which affects all Floridians, and can impact our health system. The need to vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, is becoming even more dire as highly transmissible variants spread rapidly across the state.”

Likewise, the letter to Homeland Secretary Mayorkas and Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra stressed that the need for the changes would provide broader public health protections and speed up the return to normalcy for all Floridians.

“Current proof of residency requirements present a serious obstacle to vaccination among undocumented immigrant and migrant and seasonal farmworker communities. It is our understanding that federally-supported sites currently are requiring documentation consistent with the Governor’s Executive Order and Florida Surgeon General’s advisory,” the letter from lawmakers to HHS Secretary Mayorkas said. “We ask that you consider ending residency requirements for vaccination at federally-supported sites as soon as possible, which will help to expedite our progress toward a robust return to normal and better protect the health and safety of everyone who calls Florida, and America, home.”

The signatories on each letter also include Reps. Lois Frankel (FL-21) and Darren Soto (FL-09). 

See copies of the entire letter below and attached:

The Honorable Ron DeSantis

Office of Governor

State of Florida, The Capitol

400 S. Monroe St.

Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

Dear Governor DeSantis:

We write with serious concerns about the lack of access to COVID-19 vaccinations for several key vulnerable populations in Florida, especially undocumented immigrants and migrant and seasonal farmworkers. We agree with and support efforts to reduce vaccine tourism, but now that the vaccine is available to anyone 18 and up in most states, Florida’s residency requirements unfortunately are preventing many otherwise eligible individuals from having access to a vaccine. And these particular populations are among the most vulnerable and hardest-hit, and they are part of our communities. Therefore, we urge your administration to immediately work with and leverage the expertise of the Florida Department of Health, Florida Division of Emergency Management, local organizations, and consulates to remedy this growing disparity by setting up new targeted sites, going into these communities with vaccines, and creating flexibility in Florida’s residency requirements.

In January, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees issued an advisory requiring individuals who seek vaccination to show a Florida identification card to prove that they live in the state. For those who do not have a Florida ID, certain official documents could be used instead, such as bank account statements or utility bills, among others. This has unfortunately created an obstacle for the approximately 775,000 undocumented immigrants and 150,000 to 200,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families living in Florida who are unlikely to have the necessary identification. Moreover, reports indicate that many of these individuals struggle to collect alternative documentation, since alternative documentation is at times dependent on having state identification.

We understand the desire to curb vaccine tourism – which we agree should not be encouraged – but it is crucial that all individuals living in Florida have timely and equitable access to vaccines to ensure every individual’s health and safety and to prevent further community spread. This includes the nearly 1 million immigrants and migrant workers across the state that have reportedly struggled to get a dose, some after repeated attempts. 

Undocumented immigrants are likely to live in communities where COVID-19 outcomes are more severe and work in jobs that make social distancing difficult. Further, because migrant farmworkers and their families travel to work in Florida, they may be increasing the spread of the virus across state lines. These individuals live in, work in, and interact in our communities, and without proper access to vaccines, these populations may exacerbate community spread, which affects all Floridians, and can impact our health system. The need to vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, is becoming even more dire as highly transmissible variants spread rapidly across the state.

At a time when Florida remains the state with the highest confirmed variant cases and is experiencing another uptick of cases, access to vaccines for vulnerable communities is of paramount importance. Now that access to a vaccine is available to everyone over 18 years of age in most states, the proof of residency should be widened to make the vaccine more widely accessible to populations who reside in Florida and are often more vulnerable. We urge you to act quickly, and we are prepared to assist however we can in this endeavor.

Sincerely,

 

Dear Secretary Mayorkas and Secretary Becerra:

Thank you for your commitment to an all-of-government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We write to highlight concerns about the vaccine distribution process in Florida. Current proof of residency requirements present a serious obstacle to vaccination among undocumented immigrant and migrant and seasonal farmworker communities. It is our understanding that federally-supported sites currently are requiring documentation consistent with the Governor’s Executive Order and Florida Surgeon General’s advisory. We ask that you consider ending residency requirements for vaccination at federally-supported sites as soon as possible, which will help to expedite our progress toward a robust return to normal and better protect the health and safety of everyone who calls Florida, and America, home.

In January, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees issued an advisory requiring individuals who seek vaccination to show a Florida identification card to prove that they live in the state. For those who do not have a Florida ID, certain official documents could be used instead, such as bank account statements or utility bills, among others. This has unfortunately created an obstacle for the approximately 775,000 undocumented immigrants and 150,000 to 200,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families living in Florida who are unlikely to have the necessary identification. Moreover, reports indicate that many of these individuals struggle to collect alternative documentation, since alternative documentation is at times dependent on having state identification. 

Undocumented immigrants and migrant and seasonal farmworkers have been among the most vulnerable and hardest-hit by COVID-19 and they are valued members of our communities. While we appreciated concerns about vaccine tourism early in the vaccine rollout, Florida has now opened eligibility to all adults, weeks ahead of President Biden’s April 19th goal. At this stage, proof of residency is more likely to exacerbate problems with equity, access, and public health by denying otherwise-eligible individuals from receiving the COVID-19 shot. The nearly 1 million immigrants and migrant workers across our state that have reportedly struggled to get a dose, some after repeated attempts.

Undocumented immigrants are likely to live in communities where COVID-19 outcomes are more severe and work in jobs that make social distancing difficult. Further, because migrant farmworkers and their families travel to work in Florida, they may be increasing the spread of the virus across state lines. These individuals live in, work in, and interact in our communities, and without proper access to vaccines, these populations may exacerbate community spread, which affects all Floridians, and can impact our health system.

Therefore, we urge your administration to immediately end proof of residency requirements at federally-supported vaccine sites and continue to support pop-up vaccination sites in under-resourced communities. Additionally, we ask that you strongly encourage Governor DeSantis to revise proof of residency for state- and county-run sites to expand access to vaccines for undocumented immigrants and migrant workers. The need to vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, is becoming even more dire as highly transmissible variants spread rapidly across the state.

At a time when Florida remains the state with the highest confirmed variant cases and is experiencing another uptick of cases, access to vaccines for vulnerable communities is of paramount importance. Now that access to a vaccine is available to everyone over 18 years of age in most states, proof of residency should no longer be required at federal vaccine sites in Florida or any other state. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We are prepared to assist however we can to improve access to the COVID-19 vaccine to everyone who calls Florida home.

Sincerely,

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