February 11, 2022

Warren, Cardin Call for Immediate COVID-19 Booster Shots for Individuals in DHS/ICE Custody

In 2022, COVID-19 Cases Among Ice Detainees Has Surged by 800%

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and ten other senators are calling on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to protect individuals in ICE custody from COVID-19 by making booster shots easily accessible. Following a January 26 whistleblower complaint by two consulting doctors for ICE expressing grave concern about the lack of booster shots and the 800% increase in COVID-19 cases among ICE detainees, the senators asked ICE to immediately address its failure and alleviate the risk of widespread illness in already overcrowded detention facilities. 

“In spite of the CDC’s recommendations, ICE is failing to provide COVID-19 booster shots to people in ICE detention. As of January 6, 2022, ICE has administered only 671 booster shots nationwide, to the over 22,000 detainees nationwide in ICE custody each day. Advocates have reported to us that booster shots are not being made available to individuals in detention and that even educational materials about booster shots are not uniformly available. Even worse, the agency’s most recent COVID-19 Guidelines for immigration detention facilities nationwide provide no information about booster shots,” wrote the senators.

For months, people in ICE detention facilities have been eligible for COVID-19 booster shots, but ICE has failed to deliver these shots. At the same time, COVID-19 is surging in its facilities and places detainees in great danger. Since the start of 2022, the number of COVID-19 cases among detainees has increased by 800%, and as of January 30, 2022, 14% of detainees were under isolation or monitoring for COVID-19.

The senators called on DHS and ICE to immediately provide COVID-19 boosters to all eligible detainees, ensure an adequate supply of vaccines, and provide information to detainees about the vaccine and boosters. They also asked them to provide a detailed plan for delivering booster shots and data about vaccination and booster shot rates among detainees. 

Joining Senators Warren and Cardin on the letter were Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.).

Senator Warren has led ongoing efforts to protect the health, wellbeing, and rights of people in immigration detention facilities as COVID-19 has surged. 

  • Last month, Senator Warren and Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) requested that DHS and ICE conduct an immediate review of the detainee conditions at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
  • In October 2021, Senator Warren pressed the nominee for Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to prioritize working with other federal agencies to ensure accurate and complete data transparency regarding COVID-19 in CBP facilities, and to keep Congress informed of his findings.
  • In July 2021, Senator Warren signed a letter requesting the Committee on Appropriation decrease funding levels for immigration enforcement and detention operations for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022.
  • In June 2021, Senator Warren and seven colleagues called on DHS and ICE to issue guidance for all ICE field offices and detention centers against re-detaining individuals previously released due to the COVID-19 pandemic who have complied with the conditions of their release and who pose no public safety concerns
  • In April 2021, Senator Warren, Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), , and Representative Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) led a bicameral letter to President Biden urging the inclusion of a fair, secure, and accessible pathway to U.S. citizenship for over 5 million immigrant essential workers in the President's upcoming infrastructure package.
  • In March 2021, Senator Warren, Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) reintroduced the bicameral COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act to require immigration detention facilities to collect and publicly report data about COVID-19 cases, vaccine distribution, and the preventative measures in place in these facilities.
  • In February, Senator Warren joined Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Representative Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) in introducing the bicameral U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 - President Biden's bold, inclusive, and humane framework for the future of the United States immigration system.
  • In April 2020, Senator Warren cosponsored Senator Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act. The bill called for moving immigrants out of detention and halting immigration enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic to address the spread of the virus in congregant settings.