By Richard Hernandez
Over 1.5 million San Bernardino County residents, the vast majority of whom are either native-born and naturalized U.S. citizens, have not yet been vaccinated against the COVID-19 contagion. Large numbers of those were turned away or refused access to the vaccine or subjected to a qualification process they were not able, or found too daunting, to navigate.
At the same time, illegal aliens throughout San Bernardino County and Southern California in significant numbers have been able to get inoculated against the coronavirus, defeating the sometimes haphazard, sometimes exactingly stringent process of gatekeeping around the provision of the antiserum.
In some quarters the denial of the vaccinations to American citizens has been dimly viewed, given that the effort toward mass inoculation is being subsidized by the federal government, and those unable to be included in the preventative strategy to ward off the potentially deadly disease thus far are taxpayers who have defrayed the cost of the program. Among activists advocating on behalf of illegal immigrants, however, the policy of prioritizing the provision of vaccine to the indigent non-taxpaying new arrivals into the country is being hailed as a sensible, tolerant and humane development, as well as a welcome adjustment of social attitudes that is rightfully reversing the sense of entitlement typical among average Americans.
American citizens have found themselves at a disadvantage when competing against illegal aliens when trying to achieve access to the COVID-19 vaccine in Southern California and San Bernardino County for four different reasons.
All Americans are required by law to have health insurance. Adult Americans who are in violation of the law are subject to a $695 tax penalty or 2 percent of their individual yearly income, whichever amount is more, for not having health insurance. Despite the consideration that the federal government is paying for the differing vaccines now becoming available, when seeking a coronavirus inoculation, an applicant for the vaccination must provide his or her name and his or her health plan/insurance card. If the applicant cannot show proof of health insurance or does not have a health plan, the applicant is denied access to the vaccine, and the medical professionals involved are required by law to report the individual to the federal government as being without medical coverage, risking their jobs if they do not do so. The medical professionals are not legally required to report illegal aliens or non-citizens who do not have medical insurance.
Statistics show that the mortality rates from COVID-19 exposure during the first nine months of the pandemic were higher among certain minority groups than the general population. For this reason, medical professionals are pursuing a policy of prioritizing the vaccination of minority groups, Hispanics and in particular economically challenged Latinos, over the general population.
The Los Angeles Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, known by its acronym CHIRLA, has taken up the cause of ensuring that illegal immigrants, while in the United States, have access to publicly available healthcare equal to that provided to American citizens. In recent weeks and days, CHIRLA has made an issue of circumstances where healthcare providers did not give equal priority to illegal aliens or non-citizens when it came to the coronavirus vaccine, as it is a publicly-funded program. “The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights considers access to healthcare a basic human right and fights for better healthcare that includes immigrants at the federal, state and local level,” CHIRLA states on its website.
Nearly a year ago, on April 28, 2020 the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed suit in the case of Amador v. Mnuchin, taking up the circumstance involving sixteen individuals with undocumented spouses alleging violations of the First and Fifth Amendment within the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Those plaintiffs sought an injunction that would allow them to receive recovery payments and a declaration that the eligibility qualifications in the act were unconstitutional unless they were, as couples, provided with a tax credit of $2,400 for husband and wife rather than $1,200 for a single tax filer, as is provided under the CARES Act. The upshot of that legal action is that in its reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government had to treat citizens and non-citizens alike.
Matthew Barragan was formerly the staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. He is now an assistant United States attorney at the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.
Healthcare providers and entities distributing the coronavirus vaccine do not want to get crosswise of CHIRLA, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Barragan or the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles by engaging in a policy whereby a case can be made that U.S. citizens were given priority over non-citizens in terms of access to the available supply of the COVID-19 vaccine in Southern California. Accordingly, out of an abundance of caution and to ward off lawsuits and any civil enforcement action by the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angles or the U.S. Justice Department, local healthcare providers and distributors of the COVID-19 vaccine have relegated American citizens vis-à-vis noncitizens to a lower priority in terms of inoculating those in Southern California against the coronavirus.
Since the outset of the COVID-19 crisis, San Bernardino County has gone through two directors of its Department of Public Health, Trudy Raymundo and Corwin Porter. Efforts to obtain a statement from the county’s acting director of public health, Andrew Goldfrach, relating to the county’s greater priority on inoculating illegal immigrants than county citizens, were unsuccessful.
By Richard Hernandez