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Warren, DeLauro, Colleagues Reiterate Urgent Concerns With Border Protection Agency's "Unconscionable" Failure to Provide Flu Vaccines for Migrants in Custody

December 16, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C. - (December 16, 2019) United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Chair of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Related Agencies, led a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) expressing their disappointment and alarm about the failure of CBP to provide recommended flu vaccinations to migrants in its custody. The lawmakers' letter -- which follows disturbing revelations about the deaths of three children in CBP custody over the past year due at least in part to the flu: Wilmer Josue Ramirez Vasquez (2 ½ years old), Felipe Gomez Alonzo (8 years old), and Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez (16 years old) -- comes as the flu season is officially underway and after repeated requests by members of Congress for CBP and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide flu vaccinations to detainees.

In August 2019, Chair DeLauro requested information from DHS and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on flu vaccinations, screening, testing, surveillance, and post-exposure prophylaxis. In September 2019, thirteen Senators -- led by Senator Warren -- wrote to DHS and HHS urging CBP to implement a flu vaccination program for detainees and asking a series of questions about the agency's failure to do so. In a separate letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Chair DeLauro requested information on CDC's coordination and communication with CBP regarding its flu vaccination program.

However, despite these repeated requests from Congress and the clear risk of flu transmission to migrants and CBP agents, CBP is still not vaccinating migrants in its custody against the flu. Instead, CBP has failed to respond to House appropriators, and its response last month to the senators' inquiry failed to provide an adequate rationale for its unwillingness to vaccinate detainees. In response to Chair DeLauro's letter, the CDC revealed that it made specific recommendations to CBP in January 2019 to implement a robust flu vaccination program for detainees -- making the CBP's ongoing inaction even more inexplicable. CDC provided additional information in a response to the senators' inquiry to HHS.

In their latest letter to CBP, the lawmakers sharply criticized CBP for ignoring the CDC's recommendations, and raised questions about CBP policies for detection and treatment of flu in its facilities.

"CBP acknowledges that there is an 'unprecedented' humanitarian crisis at the Southwest Border, and yet, despite this admission, insists on adhering to its 'long-standing practice' of not conducting vaccinations for the flu in its facilities," the lawmakers continued. "This decision is unconscionable and continues to endanger the health and safety of migrant families, CBP personnel, and the American public."

The lawmakers called on CBP to immediately reverse its decision, and asked the agency to answer a series of questions about its ongoing failure to provide recommended flu vaccines to detainees. The lawmakers requested a response to their letter by December 30, 2019.

CBP's response to Senator Warren and colleagues' initial inquiry can be read here. CDC's response to Chair DeLauro's inquiry can be read here. CDC's response to Senator Warren and colleagues' initial inquiry can be read here.

Joining Senator Warren and Chair DeLauro in sending the letter are Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), and Representatives Juan Vargas (CA-51), Filemon Vela (TX-34), Gregory W. Meeks (NY-05), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Judy Chu (CA-27), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), John Garamendi (CA-03), Rick Larsen (WA-02), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Joaquin Castro (TX-20), John B. Larson (CT-01), Norma Torres (CA-35), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02), Cedric Richmond (LA-02), Frederica Wilson (FL-24), José E. Serrano (NY-15), Dina Titus (NV-01), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Donna E. Shalala (FL-27), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Mark Takano (CA-41), Mike Levin (CA-49), James A. Himes (CT-04), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Ben Ray Luján (NM-03), Lauren Underwood (IL-14), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Jesús G. "Chuy" García (IL-04), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Adam Schiff (CA-28), Linda T. Sánchez (CA-38), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), and Pete Aguilar (CA-31).

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