“People have to speak up and fight for their rights because we do have rights here. The vaccine is available for everyone,” Graciela Araujo said.
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President Joe Biden had announced everyone was entitled to the COVID-19 vaccine regardless of citizenship status. Despite that declaration, there have been several instances in which undocumented immigrants have been denied the COVID-19 vaccine, and 55-year-old Graciela Araujo was one of them.
On March 12, Graciela and her husband, Alfredo Araujo, went to the Rite Aid in Mission Hills, California, where they both had appointments to get their COVID-19 vaccine. Their son, Sebastián Araujo, went along with them for support.
“When we arrived, they asked me for my health insurance card,” Graciela said in Spanish in an interview with The Americano. “When I said I didn’t have one, she then asked for my social security and an ID card.”
Graciela told them she didn’t have a social security card but did provide her Matrícula Consular, Mexico’s consular ID. The Rite Aid employee told her they wouldn’t accept that as a form of identification.
The Rite Aid website states that everyone regardless of insurance or Medicare status, can get the vaccine. Rite Aid also requires a photo ID. However, the website states that “you will not be turned away if you do not have a photo ID or insurance.” The COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone.
And yet, Graciela was denied the vaccine.
“It was really sad,” Graciela said, “especially because they told me that in front of other people.”
Graciela’s husband was able to get his vaccine on that day because he showed them his California driver’s license.
Graciela said she hugged him right before he got his shot and cried. He reassured her by telling her that they would do everything they could in order for her to get the vaccine.
“The president said everyone would be able to get the vaccine,” Graciela said. And she’s right.
On Feb. 27, President Biden said on Univision that everyone, regardless of citizenship, would be able to get the vaccine. He also reassured the undocumented community that they wouldn’t face intimidation by anyone, including the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“I want to make sure they all are able to get vaccinated and so they’re protected from Covid, without the ICE or anyone else interfering,” Biden said. “They should not be arrested for showing up for being able to get a vaccination.”
In an interview with The Americano, Manar Waheed, senior legislative and advocacy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said the undocumented community’s fear and disinformation about who can get the COVID-19 vaccine began before Biden became president.
“This has been a problem from the beginning, first under the Trump Administration and terms of access to testing and treatment for people who are immigrants,” Waheed said.
“The way that Congress created that access in one of their early bills was under federal Medicaid, which inadvertently leaves out millions of people, many immigrants and not just undocumented immigrants, but some people who have DACA, and protected status, and green cards so there’s a whole range of people that have been inappropriately left out.”
Most states do not require people to show proof of citizenship status or a social security card, however, the messaging on this hasn’t been crystal clear, according to Waheed. For example, in Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts initially denied undocumented immigrants the COVID-19 vaccine. However, essential workers fall under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines as people who must get the vaccine now, regardless of citizenship status. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are over six million immigrant workers working on the frontlines. Overall, there are nearly 13 million noncitizen immigrant workers who make up 8% of the workforce.
Despite getting rejected by the Rite Aid employees, Waheed said having Sabastián there, alongside his parents, was extremely helpful because undocumented people need others to advocate for them.
Here’s what Waheed suggests undocumented people do when they head out to get their COVID-19 vaccine:
- Read through the CDC guidelines for eligibility. The text is also available in Spanish.
- Reach out to a trusted source, including faith-based institutions and community centers, immigration organizations or other legal organizations in your area or in the state.
- If you are asked questions about social security or proof of citizenship, and you feel comfortable, it’s okay to ask the employee, or whomever is asking, why they are requiring this information.
- It’s also okay to walk away and call community centers, legal services, or immigration organizations, or reach out to an organization that makes you feel safe for additional support, if needed.
- If you need to show proof of state residency and do not have an ID, bring whatever documents you have that show your address including IRS documents, tax forms, medical documents, letters from your children’s school, etc.
- If possible, take a person with you that can advocate on your behalf.
Graciela was able to get her COVID-19 vaccine shot a few days later at a different location. Her advice to the Latino community is to not be afraid of people who attempt to deny them the vaccine.
“Stay there, and ask for an explanation,” Graciela said. “People have to speak up and fight for their rights because we do have rights here. The vaccine is available for everyone—for everyone.”