TAMPA, Fla. — With the Covid-19 vaccine now available, doctors are urging everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible in order to achieve herd immunity. However, one group of people are afraid to come forward to get the vaccine because they believe it could lead to their deportation.
ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill spoke with undocumented immigrants about their concerns and is digging deeper to find out if the government plans on deporting them after getting the life saving vaccine.
With the Covid-19 vaccine now available, many people in the Bay Area are jumping at the opportunity to get vaccinated. The virus has had a huge negative impact on our country, especially here in Florida. We’ve had nearly 2 million cases of Covid-19 in the state and we’ve buried more than 28,000 people.
And while the medical community is in a rush against time to get as many people vaccinated as possible, there is one group of people who feel forgotten about. Many undocumented immigrants in the Bay Area say they fear deportation if they come forward for the life-saving vaccine.
ABC Action News is not revealing the identities of the workers we spoke with, because of their immigration status, and our interviews have been translated.
One undocumented immigrant we spoke with from Mexico said she's afraid to come forward to get vaccinated. She’s lived in Plant City with her husband and has live in Florida for 20 years. She said her community hasn't received much information about the vaccine, causing many undocumented immigrants to assume the worst. "We’re afraid because we don’t know if they will come to trick us with the vaccine in order to deport us,” she said. She said she and her husband have already had the deadly virus
Another undocumented immigrant from Honduras said he’s not afraid to come forward to get vaccinated, but he could understand why many in his community are. "My opinion about the vaccine and the people who are afraid of being deported because they are going to have problems with the law is that we Hispanics lack information.”
Angel Marcial is the pastor of Iglesia Vertical in Largo. Many of the people in his congregation are undocumented, which makes ministering, not just to their spirits’ but to their health more complicated. “We still recommend that they get the vaccine but the fear in them for a government that will pursue them by their papers is definitely imminent,” said Pastor Marcial.
“The more people that are vaccinated, the less likely it is that this virus is going to be able to jump from person to person,” said Dr. Jason Salemi from USF Health, explaining why we need everyone to get vaccinated, regardless of residential status.
“Ultimately, what that means for the common person is more people that are vaccinated, the sooner it is that we can return to some semblance of normalcy, the fewer number of people that we’re going to see in the hospital and a fewer number of our loved ones that we’re going to hear are dying on a daily basis due to this pandemic,” said Dr. Salemi.
The Pew Research Center estimates there are about 775,000 undocumented immigrants living in Florida, many of whom are even more at risk of contracting the virus because they tend to be essential workers and lack health care.
Ralph Fernandez, a local immigration attorney, says undocumented immigrants should not be afraid to come forward to take the vaccine when possible. “Biden’s not going to deport people for getting the Vaccine, I can tell you that. This government, they’ve got a lot of things to do, but just morally, they’re not like that.”
In fact, the Department of Health Services posted a statement saying they support equal access to the Covid-19 vaccine to undocumented immigrants and that ICE officials will not conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites.
Though the federal government says they have no interest in deporting people who get vaccinated, many advocates of the undocumented immigrant community say, Florida’s I.D. requirement will prevent many people in the Bay Area from getting that life-saving vaccine.