At a press conference on Monday, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signaled that undocumented workers in Nebraska’s meatpacking facilities would not be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
While holding the conference, Ricketts responded to a question about whether undocumented people could be vaccinated when the vaccine is made available to meatpacking workers, who are among Nebraska’s initial priority groups.
Referring to undocumented workers as “illegal immigrants,” Ricketts said, “You’re supposed to be a legal resident of this country to be working in the plants,” adding, “So I do not expect that illegal immigrants will be part of that vaccine program.”
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Nebraska holds the nation’s largest meatpacking hub, and according to the Migration Policy Institute, some 66% of its meatpacking workers are immigrants, while at least 14% of the workers are undocumented.
Since March, meatpacking facilities have at times become hotbeds for COVID-19 transmission, with workers standing in close proximity for hours and working indoors in dangerous conditions. Last month, Tyson Foods fired seven plant managers after an internal investigation confirmed that the managers bet on how many workers would become infected with COVID-19.
According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, at least 52,157 meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least 266 have died.
The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting clocked Nebraska as having the highest number of COVID-19 cases originating from meatpacking plants, with at least 5,267 workers contracting COVID-19.
Using news reports, company press releases, state and federal data, MCIR also registered that 22 meatpacking workers have died from COVID-19 in Nebraska, and there have been outbreaks at 23 different facilities in the state.
Nebraska’s vaccination program is still in Phase 1A, with more than 36,000 doses administered to frontline and healthcare workers, and Phase 1B is set to begin later this month.
Gov. Ricketts’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.