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What does the COVID-19 vaccine have to do with immigration status? Photo: Getty Images

COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate. Unfortunately, Governor of Nebraska, Pete Ricketts, does

Ricketts said on Jan. 4 that COVID-19 vaccines would not be available to undocumented workers.

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During a briefing at the Nebraska State Capitol on Monday, Jan. 4, Governor Pete Ricketts said that undocumented workers would not be eligible for the coronavirus vaccine. 

“You’re supposed to be a legal resident of the country to be able to be working in those [meat-packing] plants, so I do not expect that illegal immigrants will be part of the vaccine with that program,” he said. 

With these words, Ricketts falsely asserted that undocumented individuals do not work in the meat-packing industry, and insinuated that immigration status should be a factor in eligibility for a life-saving vaccine. 

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that about 66% of Nebraska’s meat-packing workers are immigrants, and the Associated Press reported that the number of undocumented immigrants vary from 14% to the majority at some plants.

Meat-processing plants, which were deemed essential businesses throughout the pandemic, have been hit hard by the virus. 

As of Jan. 4, 45,000 positive cases and 239 deaths linked to meat and poultry processing facilities in the country have been reported, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Following Rickett’s remarks, which quickly went viral on Twitter, Taylor Gage, the governor’s communications director, attempted to clarify that “the federal government is expected to eventually make enough vaccines available for everyone in the country,” but Nebraska is prioritizing citizens and legal residents. 

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response to Rickett’s words on Twitter with a sassy, yet poignant statement that hit at the heart of his discriminatory move. 

“Imagine being so racist that you go out of your way to ensure that the people who prepare *your* food are unvaccinated,” she wrote. 

Dulce Castañeda, a local activist and organizer, argued that the vaccine should not be administered according to legal status, citing the virus’ infection of everyone no matter their race, creed or gender.

“This virus isn’t discriminating based on immigration status.“It doesn’t ask people if they’re a citizen, if they’re a resident, if they’re on a visa. So why would we ask that for vaccines?” she said.

Considering how difficult of a process it often can be to obtain citizenship in America, a statement such as Rickett’s is ignorant and dangerous. 

Vaccination needs to be as quick and expansive as possible, and all frontline essential workers should be at the top of the list, documented or not. 

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