Speaking to Univision, Mr Biden said: “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. They should not be arrested for showing up for being able to get a vaccination."
This comment marks a stark difference from the previous administration, which was repeatedly criticised for its harsh treatment of immigrants. The White House vaccine plan puts some focus on minority neighbourhoods and undocumented immigrants to make up the difference in vaccine distribution for these often underserved communities.
The plan says: "Observed inequities in rural and Tribal communities, territories, and other geographically isolated communities require a place-based approach to data collection and the response. Despite increased state and local efforts to address these inequities, Covid-19’s disparate impact on communities of color and other underserved populations remains unrelenting."
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing on 28 January: “We do feel, as an administration, that ensuring that all people in the United States, undocumented immigrants as well, of course, should receive access to a vaccine because that one is morally right but also ensures that people in the country are also safe."
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement, put out a statement on 1 February echoing the sentiments espoused by Ms Psaki and Mr Biden.
The statement said: "DHS and its Federal government partners fully support equal access to the Covid-19 vaccines and vaccine distribution sites for undocumented immigrants.
"DHS supports the equitable and efficient distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine to all populations, including historically underserved communities."
The agency added that ICE "will not conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics. Consistent with ICE’s long-standing sensitive locations policy, ICE does not and will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities ... except in the most extraordinary of circumstances."
Republican House Minority Whip Steve Scalise slammed the vaccine plan after DHS issued its statement, saying that offering the vaccine to undocumented immigrants was "a slap in the face" to all Americans waiting for a shot.
Mr Scalise issued a statement, saying: “President Biden’s plan to vaccinate illegal immigrants ahead of Americans who are currently being denied the Covid-19 vaccine is a slap in the face to millions of hard-working families who have been waiting months for the vaccine and expect Washington leaders to be looking out for them."
The DHS statement did not call for undocumented immigrants to be vaccinated before US citizens.
Mr Scalised called on the administration to "abandon this ridiculous plan".
The chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Paul Ruiz told Roll Call that Mr Scalise's "cruel politicisation of this sentiment is a stupid public health approach that not only will prolong the pandemic but will endanger everyone’s health".
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