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ICE Begins COVID-19 Vaccine Program At Houston Immigrant Detention Facility

ICE Health Service Corps provides care to detained immigrants.
ICE Health Service Corps provides care to detained immigrants.

A Houston Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center will now vaccinate some of its detainees, according to the Houston Health Department.

Omar Salgado, the health department’s immunization bureau chief, confirmed that last Wednesday the city provided 130 doses of the Moderna vaccine to the Houston Processing Center in north Houston, which is operated by the private prison company CoreCivic.

It is the first known COVID-19 vaccination program in Texas ICE detention facilities, according to several Texas-based immigration attorneys.

The department is also making arrangements to provide second doses in three weeks, and ICE will handle vaccine administration, Salgado confirmed Monday.

One woman detained at the Houston Processing Center said she attended an orientation about the COVID-19 vaccination Thursday of last week, according to an attorney with Deportation Defense Houston.

“She believes that the first dose will be administered at that facility on Tuesday,” said Deportation Defense Houston immigration attorney Julie Pasch. "She also told us she was in a room with about 25 people and they were asked whether or not they wanted the vaccine and everybody said yes, they wanted it."

The new vaccination program was revealed during a Houston Public Media investigation into ICE’s scattershot vaccination approach, to be published in the coming days.

Prior to this, six Texas-based immigration attorneys — including the director of policy and government affairs at RAICES — told Houston Public Media that they aren't aware of any clients that have received the COVID-19 vaccine in ICE care, nor have they heard of any case of a detainee receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in a Texas detention center.

Though federal prisons have provided COVID-19 vaccines to tens of thousands of detained people, ICE has punted responsibility to provide vaccines to immigrant detainees to state and local health departments.

According to ICE statistics, 402 people are currently under isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 in Texas ICE detention centers despite an increase in social distancing and safety precautions. Hundreds of ICE detainees have also been released from these facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

ICE did not receive a federal allocation of vaccines, unlike the Federal Bureau of Prisons, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a statement, ICE said a “limited number” of people in detention have begun to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, “based on availability and priorities for vaccinating individuals in the state where they are currently detained.”

“COVID-19 vaccines for ICE detainees are being allocated by local and state health departments, and were incorporated into the total COVID-19 vaccine amount distributed by the federal government to each state,” read the statement.

This story was produced by Houston Public Media.