Miami Herald: Florida lawmakers call on DeSantis to loosen vaccine requirements for the undocumented
A handful of Florida Democrats are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to loosen state residency requirements that have made it difficult for many undocumented immigrants to access the vaccine.
The members of Congress— Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutch, Darren Soto and Lois Frankel— sent letters to the governor’s office Wednesday, citing a Miami Herald article that chronicled how undocumented migrants are being turned away at vaccination sites.
“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,” the lawmakers wrote. “These particular populations are among the most vulnerable and hardest-hit, and they are part of our communities.”
They urged DeSantis to work with the Florida Department of Health and other agencies 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 Florida, vaccine recipients are required to show a valid Florida driver’s license or U.S. government-issued photo identification, a utility bill with a Florida address and the individual’s name, or a rental agreement. Mail from a financial institution or a government agency that shows the person’s name and Florida address can also be provided as proof.
But those requirements are not flexible enough, experts say, noting that many undocumented immigrants— including the 775,000 undocumented immigrants and 150,000 to 200,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families living in Florida— do not have a long-term lease.
The governor’s office did not respond to the Herald’s inquiry on whether residency requirements will be undone.
Eligibility requirements vary on a state-by-state basis. White House officials, including the president, have said they want undocumented immigrants to be confident they can receive a vaccination without legal repercussions. But national immigrant experts say a patchwork of policies at the local level has created confusion and disparities from one state to another.
The four Democrats said they sent a similar letter Monday to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. In February, DHS called ensuring that everyone has access to the vaccine, regardless of immigration status, “a moral and public health imperative.”
“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,” the legislators wrote. “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.”
Florida established residency requirements to get a COVID-19 vaccine in January after reports that foreigners were traveling to Florida to get the shots.
In their letter to DeSantis, the lawmakers said they understand the need to curb so-called “vaccine tourism” but that it is also a matter of public health to ensure equitable access.
“Undocumented immigrants are likely to live in communities where COVID-19 outcomes are more severe and work in jobs that make social distancing difficult,” they said. “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.”
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