Fear of feds could prevent Las Vegas immigrants from seeking COVID vaccine

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Steve Marcus

Nevada Army National Guard member Katherine Deskins prepares a COVID-19 shot at Cashman Field Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. The vaccinations to public safety workers are part of a pilot program for a larger mass vaccination effort, officials said.

Mon, Jan 18, 2021 (2 a.m.)

The biggest obstacle to getting undocumented immigrants in Las Vegas vaccinated against COVID-19 might not be fear of the shot, but the unwarranted fear of being outed to federal authorities, advocates said.

That’s why state officials and immigration advocates are working to spread the word that nobody’s private health information will be shared with the federal government.

“Immigrant and refugee communities are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and we want to ensure they have equal access to the COVID-19 vaccines and participate in the state’s vaccination program,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a news release.

It's against privacy laws to share personally identifiable health information. Immunization records are secured in a data collection system managed by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, state officials said.

One undocumented woman said she was concerned if immigration officials accessed her vaccination information, it would also put her husband, daughter and three grandchildren in jeopardy.

"Honestly, none of us have papers," said the woman, who asked her name not be published because of her immigration status.

Maria Quiroga, an immigration lawyer at Quiroga Law Office, said she has also heard from clients who fear getting the vaccination will somehow expose their immigration status.

But nobody should worry about immigration officials staking out vaccination sites or getting ahold of private medical records, she said.

"It's unlikely ICE would camp outside of a vaccination site," she said.

Undocumented immigrants make up about 7% of Clark County's population, said Michael Kagan, director of UNLV's Immigration Clinic.

"If people in that population are afraid to get vaccinated, it will have a public health effect, because the goal is to get as many people immune to this disease as possible," Kagan said.

Bliss Requa-Trautz, director of the Ariba Las Vegas Worker Center, an organization that advocates for labor rights, said undocumented immigrants are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because many are essential frontline workers.

"They're providing childcare services, elder care or personal care services. The vast majority of domestic workers are immigrant women," Requa-Trautz said.

Some employers “have required folks to continue working in high-risk situations,” she said. “That is the explanation for why we see higher COVID rates in the Latino community.”

Cecia Alvarado, state director of Mi Familia Vota, a national organization that pushes for equal rights for Latinos, said immigrants are typically not inherently afraid of vaccines.

"We come from Third World countries where getting vaccinated is very common,” she said. “We are faced with different diseases that are not the same here.”

Alvarado said her group is working with community leaders across the state to ensure information about the vaccine directed at the immigrant community is clear and consistent.

Mi Familia Vota also works closely with faith-based groups because churches have been a safe haven for people without citizenship.

"We need to advocate in those community spaces, places our community look at as a safe space," she said.

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