Decision not to vaccinate ahead of flu season threatens health of children and families, government personnel, and others in Customs and Border Protection holding centers

Senator Murray: “CBP's decision not to vaccinate against this preventable harm, which has already proven fatal for children in its custody, is inexcusable"

(Washington, DC)  – Following reports of flu-related deaths of migrant children in U.S. facilities, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a letter to Kevin McAleenan, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Alex Azar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), expressing serious concerns over DHS's recent announcement that migrant families currently detained at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) holding centers will not be vaccinated for the flu ahead of this year's flu season. This action is at odds with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation for all individuals above the age of 6 months, including immigrants, to receive a flu vaccine by the end of next month.

"This dangerous decision not to administer vaccinations for a disease that has already proven fatal to migrant children in CBP's custody is immoral and irresponsible, placing entire communities at risk of the flu and its associated complications," wrote Senator Murray. "CBP must do more to ensure the health of migrant families under its care, and we strongly urge the agency to reconsider its plan not to vaccinate those in its custody."

Since 2018, at least seven migrant children who had been in federal custody, including CBP, have died. Though the flu is a preventable illness, medical professionals have recently reported that at least three children in U.S. custody died, in part, from the flu. CBP's largest detention center, located in McAllen, Texas, also had to temporarily stop processing migrants earlier this year due to a flu outbreak that affected nearly three dozen detainees. Despite these recent deaths, CBP confirmed last week that it would not be vaccinating the migrant families it has detained ahead of this year's flu season. While CBP has justified its decision by citing, in part, the "short term nature of CBP holdings," DHS and HHS recently announced a new rule to amend the Flores Settlement Agreement, which, if implemented, would allow CBP to indefinitely detain migrant families. In the letter, Senator Murray argued that CBP's decision not to vaccinate those in its custody, considering this new potential for prolonged detentions, threatens the health of the children and parents under its watch and could make flu outbreaks more likely, which in turn could result in additional risk to CBP personnel and the public.

"CBP's decision not to vaccinate against this preventable harm, which has already proven fatal for children in its custody, is inexcusable," Senator Murray continued.

Senator Murray has helped lead the charge to end President Trump’s appalling treatment of migrant children and families at the southern border. In addition to introducing the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act  this summer, Senator Murray has also introduced legislation to prevent the separation of families at sensitive locations such as schools, religious institutions, and hospitals, and demanded the President maintain the “Parole in Place” (PIP) program, which prevents immigrants who are spouses, parents, and children of active-duty servicemembers and veterans from being deported.

Read the full text of the letter HERE.