September 09, 2019

Warren, Colleagues Question DHS and HHS on Decision Not to Administer Flu Vaccines for Migrant Families Held at CBP Detention Centers

Decision Not to Vaccinate Ahead of Flu Season Threatens Health of Detainees, CBP Personnel, and Others

Text of Letter (PDF)

Boston, MA - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), sent a letter to Kevin McAleenan, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Alex Azar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), expressing serious concerns over DHS's recent announcement that migrant families currently detained at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) holding centers will not be vaccinated for the flu ahead of this year's flu season.  This action is at odds with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation for all individuals above the age of 6 months, including immigrants, to receive a flu vaccine by the end of next month.

Since 2018, at least seven migrant children who had been in CBP care have died. Though the flu is a preventable illness, medical professionals have recently reported that at least three children in U.S. custody died, in part, from the flu. CBP's largest detention center, located in McAllen, Texas, has also had to temporarily stop processing migrants earlier this year due to a flu outbreak that affected nearly three dozen detainees. Despite these recent deaths, CBP confirmed last week that it would not be vaccinating the migrant families it has detained ahead of this year's flu season. While CBP has justified its decision by citing, in part, the "short term nature of CBP holdings," DHS and HHS recently announced a new rule to amend the Flores Settlement Agreement, which, if implemented, would allow CBP to indefinitely detain migrant families.

"This dangerous decision not to administer vaccinations for a disease that has already proven fatal to migrant children in CBP's custody is immoral and irresponsible, placing entire communities at risk of the flu and its associated complications," wrote the senators in their letter. "CBP must do more to ensure the health of migrant families under its care, and we strongly urge the agency to reconsider its plan not to vaccinate those in its custody."

The senators argued that CBP's decision not to vaccinate those in its custody, considering this new potential for prolonged detentions, threatens the health of the children and parents under its watch and could make flu outbreaks more likely, which in turn could result in additional risk to CBP personnel and the public.

"CBP's decision not to vaccinate against this preventable harm, which has already proven fatal for children in its custody, is inexcusable," the senators continued.

The senators asked Acting Secretary McAleenan and Secretary Azar to answer a series of questions about the agencies' plans to combat the spread of the flu among migrant families during the upcoming flu season. The letter requests this information by September 20, 2019.

Senator Warren has taken a number of recent actions to hold immigration authorities accountable:

  • Along with Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Lou Correa (D-Calif.), and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Senator Warren led a letter to Acting Secretary McAleenan and  Acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Matthew T. Albence demanding answers on USCIS's decision to end consideration of non-military deferred action requests, including medical deferred action. More than 100 colleagues joined this letter;
  • She and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, expressing their strong opposition to the agency's decision to indefinitely suspend new asylum interviews in the Boston Asylum Sub-Office and re-assign staff to the southern border. She also condemned the decision in a statement;
  • She wrote to the DHS Inspector General (IG) requesting an investigation into the unwarranted detention of American citizens by immigration authorities, and into the policies and procedures in place at ICE and CBP to prevent such detentions;
  • She sent a letter to the DHS IG requesting an investigation into the use of solitary confinement to force participation in "voluntary" work programs, and another letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission requesting an investigation of whether a private prison contractor violated securities laws in their statements about lawsuits regarding these programs;
  • She sent a letter to ICE expressing concern and requesting information regarding the agency's reported misuse of solitary confinement at detention facilities;
  • She sent an oversight letter to ICE regarding reports that ICE has secretly transferred migrants to three new for-profit detention facilities;
  • She joined Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i) in calling for the federal government to investigate federal contractors in charge of migrant children detained after crossing the U.S. southern border;
  • She and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) investigated former White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly's "cynical" and "unethical" decision to join the board of directors of the federal contractor Caliburn International, which runs the nation's largest detention center for migrant children;
  • She sent letters to private prison operators, DHS, the Bureau of Prisons, and the American Correctional Association regarding the accreditation of private prison and immigration detention facilities;
  • Following reports that two additional children had died in the custody of CBP, Senator Warren sent a letter demanding answers about conditions that lead to the deaths of five children in the span of six months;
  • She called for an IG investigation into reports DHS used an intelligence firm's surveillance of Trump Administration family separation policy protests;
  • She questioned GEO Group and CoreCivic about their compliance with federal immigration detention standards following a DHS IG report about unsafe conditions and mistreatment of immigrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers;
  • She sent a letter to Nakamoto Group asking them a series of questions about the thoroughness of their inspections of immigration detention facilities following a DHS OIG report about their inadequacy;
  • In April of this year, she released the prison companies' responses, which revealed that neither the companies nor their private auditor have taken responsibility for egregious failures identified by the DHS OIG, and also revealed an ongoing dispute between the Nakamoto Group, the contractor responsible for auditing detention facilities, and the IG about the quality of Nakamoto's inspections; and
  • She led a letter to DHS regarding reports that ICE was coordinating with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to arrest, detain, and deport individuals seeking to obtain legal immigration status.