Sedgwick County: Undocumented immigrants should get vaccinated; won’t face legal consequences

By Matthew Kelly / Wichita Journalism Collaborative

Sedgwick County officials are advising undocumented immigrants that they can receive the COVID-19 vaccine without exposing themselves or their families to legal vulnerability from immigration enforcement or from civil or criminal prosecution.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention require states to submit COVID-19 vaccination data, including some personally identifiable data about vaccine recipients, the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services have agreed that such information may only be used for the public health response to the pandemic.

Sedgwick County is currently only vaccinating seniors 70 and older, so when people arrive for their appointments, they must provide some form of identification card or birth certificate to verify their age before receiving the vaccine.

“Personal information that you give to the health worker . . . that is privileged information. We are not going to divulge that.”

Tom Stolz, Sedgwick County county manager

“All you have to prove to us right now coming in is date of birth, and if you’re above [70], we don’t care [about your citizenship status]. We’re going to give you a vaccine,” County Manager Tom Stolz said during a media roundtable last week.

“Personal information that you give to the health worker . . . that is privileged information. We are not going to divulge that.”

Many undocumented immigrants work essential jobs that are considered high-priority in Phase 2 of Kansas’s vaccine rollout.

“When we get further into Phase 2, all you’re going to need is proof of employment — an ID badge from your employer or a paycheck stub,” Stolz said.

When job-specific vaccination begins, workers won’t have to provide a birth certificate or any other form of identification beyond proof of employment. Stolz said the county is prepared to vaccinate all workers, regardless of their immigration status.

Undocumented workers may be hesitant to interact with government systems or share personal information, but officials say it’s a public health priority for as many people as possible to receive the vaccine.

Nadine Johnson, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, said local officials must not violate the trust of undocumented Kansans by misusing their personal information.

“The considerable lack of transparency as to information-sharing processes between local government entities and immigration enforcement officials contributes to the dearth of trust in these officials by undocumented Kansans and their families,” Johnson said.

“We expect officials to abide by the guidance from the CDC and DHS and to adhere to HIPAA and all health-related privacy laws as they work to ensure Kansans across the state are vaccinated against the virus.” 

Stolz echoed Johnson’s sentiment that public health must be a priority that transcends immigration status.

“Even if you’re undocumented, you’re going to pass the virus. You’re going to,” Stolz said. “So we have to get everyone vaccinated. That’s the bottom line is public health.” You can schedule a vaccination appointment in English or Spanish by calling (316) 660-1029 or by visiting Caretakers or adult children can schedule appointments on behalf of seniors 70 or older.