nebraska-governor-covid-vaccine Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts
AP Photo/Nati Harnik File

“COVID-19 doesn’t ask about legal status and does not care about the politics of a state.”

Meatpacking workers are essential workers. An indication of the vital work that meatpacking workers provide can be noted by President Donald Trump’s refusal to shut down meatpacking factories during the start of the pandemic.

Meatpacking workers, however, are not immune to COVID-19. More than 44,500 coronavirus cases and 232 deaths have occurred among meatpacking workers across the United States, according to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that frontline workers should be one of the first groups to get the COVID vaccine. Yet, Nebraska Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts said undocumented immigrants who work at meatpacking factories should not be vaccinated. 

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“You’re supposed to be a legal resident of the country to be able to be working in those plants,” Ricketts said during a press conference on Jan. 4. “So I do not expect that illegal immigrants will be part of the vaccine with that program.”

Soon after Gov. Ricketts comments went viral on Twitter, Taylor Gage, the governor’s communications director, attempted to clarify by tweeting, “The Governor’s statement this morning was that illegal immigrants are not allowed to work in meat processing facilities and therefore will not be receiving the vaccine in that context.”

Then added, “Furthermore, while the federal government is expected to eventually make enough vaccine available for everyone in the country, Nebraska is going to prioritize citizens and legal residents ahead of illegal immigrants.”

LULAC, which has been advocating for the safety and well-being of food-packing workers for years, many of whom are Latino and immigrants, said Gov. Ricketts should prioritize frontline workers because it is a moral obligation. 

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“LULAC reminds Governor Ricketts that COVID-19 doesn’t ask about legal status and does not care about the politics of a state,” Domingo García, LULAC national president said in a statement to The Americano. “As we are seeing, COVID impacts each and every person in a community one way or another, directly or indirectly. It benefits all residents that each and every person in a meatpacking facility be vaccinated and their families too. It is the Christian thing to do and from a medical standpoint, the right thing to do.”

In Nebraska, over the past week, The New York Times reports there have been an average of 1,013 cases per day, a decrease of 4% from the average two weeks earlier.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) shared his personal experience on what it’s like to work in a meatpacking facility, tweeting, “I worked in a meatpacking factory and am very familiar with the working conditions in this industry. I can tell you this—leaving anyone unvaccinated for any reason will put everyone at risk.”

On Nov. 23, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the Noah’s Ark Plant for their refusal to protect essential workers and the broader community. The lawsuit alleged that the factory had “treacherous COVID-19 conditions.”

An anonymous plaintiff said, “Even when things got more serious, they didn’t care. People were sick, but they still had to keep working. We were all worried because everyone has kids, but not working wasn’t an option. If you stopped working, you would lose your job.”

Sindy Benavides, LULAC’s national chief executive officer, said in a statement to The Americano that Gov. Ricketts must reconsider his stance about vaccinating undocumented frontline workers. 

“LULAC is troubled that the highest elected official in a state ravaged by the coronavirus is now choosing to play politics with the lives of all men, women, and children who may be needlessly exposed to COVID-19,” Benavides said. “He of all people should know that the virus does not distinguish between political parties, birthplace nor immigration status as it spreads like wildfire among the nation’s essential workers.”