Katko seeks vaccine plan from Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Rep. John Katko (R-NY) recently requested a briefing on what plans the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has to vaccinate frontline personnel during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Spurred by media reports that the U.S. government had planned to offer taxpayer-procured SARS-CoV-2 vaccination doses to jailed individuals held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, Rep. Katko sent a Feb. 2 letter to then-incoming DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas saying such a plan raises questions about DHS’s program for its scarce vaccine resources. 

“A scenario where individuals in DHS custody are prioritized for vaccination over our frontline federal law enforcement tasked with securing our border and enforcing immigration laws, as well as other frontline DHS personnel and American citizens, would likely prove equally shocking and inequitable to the American people,” wrote Rep. Katko, ranking member on the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, and fellow committee member U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA). 

Rep. Katko and his colleague seek to ensure foreign nationals in DHS custody are not prioritized ahead of U.S. frontline immigration and border security law enforcement, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Transportation Security Administration officers, the Federal Protective Service, and the U.S. Secret Service, among others. 

“Should this occur, the United States would be faced with yet another self-imposed incentive for migrants to make their way to our borders, exacerbating an already-strained system and putting public health in border communities and across the country at even greater risk,” the members wrote. 

More than 7,000 law enforcement personnel have contracted COVID-19 and more than 18 have lost their lives to the virus, according to Rep. Katko’s letter, which added that “it is believed that, in many instances, officers contracted the disease in the line of duty, while interacting with migrants and the traveling public at ports of entry, during apprehensions along the land borders, during interior enforcement actions, and in processing or detention facilities.”

The lawmakers posed several questions to the DHS Secretary asking about the current situation and how the department plans to move forward with vaccinations.