Has ICE Refused Even Donated Flu Shot Vaccines for Detainees?
On December 5 2019, Twitter lit up with rumors and tweets that Immigration and Customs Enforcement refused to offer “even donated flu shots” for detainees in its custody:
In its entirety, this tweet (and others like it) made additional points — that spread of disease is “how the Nazis murdered Anne Frank,” and that refusal of vaccine donations “fulfills the formal United Nations definition of genocide”:
ICE has refused even donated flu shots. This is exactly how the Nazis murdered Anne Frank. It fulfills the formal United Nations definition of genocide. We are committing genocide in this country, today.
Anne Frank died of typhus — an infectious bacterial disease — at Bergen-Belsen in early 1945. Nanaette Blitz, a Holocaust survivor and classmate of Frank’s, recalled that Frank was ailing and without medical treatment in the months before her death:
“She was no more than a skeleton by [December 1944],” Blitz recounted. “She was wrapped in a blanket; she couldn’t bear to wear her clothes anymore because they were crawling with lice.” Lice are the main carrier of typhus, the symptoms of which include severe headaches, muscle pain, high fever, followed by skin rash and delirium.
A third claim in the tweet involved the United Nations’ definition of genocide, an issue we have fact-checked previously regarding claims that family separation policies were defined as acts of genocide by the UN (they are.) As noted in our prior reporting, the United Nations’ definition of “genocide” appears in Article II of “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” [PDF], reading:
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
a. Killing members of the group;
b. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Emphasized in Article II’s provisions above is “c.,” one of five “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” In this context, the claim is that withholding access to vaccines for potentially deadly illnesses constitutes deliberate infliction of conditions intended to cause illness and/or death.
By the end of the federal fiscal year in September 2019, at least three immigrant children had died of the flu in federal custody, including a sixteen-year-old boy whose May 2019 death in Border Patrol custody was caught on video, which was obtained months later by investigative journalists:
A 16-yr-old boy died in Border Patrol custody. He had the flu
They didn't take him to the hospital
They didn't release him
They didn't even seem to check on him as he was dying on the floor of his cell, contrary to the govt's account
We have the videohttps://t.co/DE0BDzyviI
— Eric Umansky (@ericuman) December 5, 2019
In November 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported that border agencies refused donations of flu shot vaccines as well as the services of doctors to administer them:
[U.S. Customs and Border Protection] has yet to respond to an offer [in November 2019] to vaccinate 100 migrant parents and children in Border Patrol detention in San Ysidro. The group of seven doctors also offered to send volunteers to vaccinate migrants at Border Patrol holding areas across the country “to prevent a possible flu epidemic,” calling unsanitary detention conditions “cause for significant alarm.”
The doctors sent a letter to the chiefs of U.S. Homeland Security and Health and Human Services earlier [in November 2019] noting that the flu mortality rate among migrant children in Border Patrol custody was nine times that of the general population last year and giving them until [a date in November 2019] to respond to their offer. By late [that day], there was no indication Border Patrol would accept … Border Patrol officials say they do not vaccinate migrant families and children because their holding areas are supposed to be temporary.
“As a law enforcement agency, and due to the short-term nature of [Border Patrol] holding and other logistical challenges, operating a vaccine program is not feasible,” a Border Patrol spokeswoman said.
That article noted the involvement of several agencies and the varying services each purported to provide to detainees:
Border Patrol may release migrants, transfer them to [U.S. Homeland Security and Health and Human Services] or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which runs the country’s long-term adult and family immigrant detention centers. Both HHS and ICE “have comprehensive medical support services and can provide vaccinations as appropriate to those in their custody,” the Border Patrol spokeswoman said.
A San Diego Union-Tribune article also published on November 19 2019 described the involvement of the agencies and Customs and Border Protection’s insistence that it did not intend to hold detainees for long as cause to reject the flu vaccine offer:
[A] group of seven doctors is demanding access to the CBP’s detention facility in San Ysidro and calls the agency’s refusal to do so “cause for significant alarm,” according to a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Nov. 5. 
Though the agency has yet to respond to the offer, a Border Patrol spokeswoman replied to a media inquiry about the letter.
“It has never been a CBP practice to administer vaccines and this not a new policy,” the official statement read in part. “As a law enforcement agency, and due to the short-term nature of CBP holding and other logistical challenges, operating a vaccine program is not feasible.”
A verified Department of Homeland Security (DHS) account, @SpoxDHS, appeared to address the claims. In both articles excerpted above, Border Patrol representatives said DHS, HHS, and ICE vaccinated immigrants but that Border Patrol did not.
In a December 10 2019 tweet, @SpoxDHS said that Border Patrol “isn’t going to let a random group of radical political activists show up and start injecting people with drugs”:
Of course Border Patrol isn't going to let a random group of radical political activists show up and start injecting people with drugs. https://t.co/k8e9hYSOSy
— Matt Leas (@SpoxDHS) December 10, 2019
When doctors and activists who support them marched at the border in San Ysidro on December 10 2019 to bring attention to the need for vaccines, border agencies called in the military:
There’s no fixing ICE. There’s no fixing Border Patrol.
Today when doctors and Jews marched to stop children from dying of the flu inside concentration camps, they brought out the army.
We will not be intimidated. We, @Doc4CampClosure, and @fams2gether will be back. pic.twitter.com/zjjHXqfRHd
— ✡️ Never Again Action ✡️ (@NeverAgainActn) December 10, 2019
A December 5 2019 tweet by @Collaterly (and many others) claimed that ICE refused donations of flu shots for detainees, that disease was “how the Nazis killed Anne Frank,” and that withholding treatment fit the United Nations’ definition of genocide. Frank died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen in 1944, and the UN definition of genocide includes “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” In the tweet, the user said ICE was refusing flu shots and services from doctors, but it appeared that Border Patrol (the agency holding the teenaged boy who died in May 2016 of the flu) was the agency instrumental in refusing the offer. An official DHS spokesperson confirmed those refusals in a December 10 2019 tweet.