“The effort to vaccinate those in our care and custody, which is a public health best practice, has been ongoing for many months,” a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.
Immigration officials have been vaccinating migrants since last summer, the spokesperson continued.
“In order to further safeguard public health and ensure the safety of border communities, the workforce, and migrants, DHS is now expanding these efforts and requiring that noncitizens taken into [Customs and Border Protection] custody for further immigration processing at the Southwest land border be given age-appropriate COVID-19 vaccines.”
The Biden administration came under fire last year for requiring travelers crossing the border into the U.S. to show proof of vaccination, while thousands of illegal immigrants flooded into the country without ever having to get vaccinated. That policy changed “in order to ensure the safety of border communities and their workforce and the migrants themselves,” said White House communications director Kate Bedingfield.
Migrants who refuse to get the shot will be placed into deportation proceedings, according to a New York Times report about the policy.
The only migrants who are exempt are unaccompanied children and those too young to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines.
“We know that vaccinating people is the best way to protect from the virus and to protect against the spread of the virus,” Bedingfield added.
The number of illegal immigrants encountered by immigration officials has surged under the Biden administration. At the same time, the number of deportations has decreased significantly compared to past administrations, including the Obama administration.
Just 74,082 noncitizens were arrested last year. Former President Barack Obama arrested nearly 300,000 illegal immigrants during his first few years in office.