September 09, 2019

Harris, 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 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), along with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI), in sending 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.

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.