EXCLUSIVE: DHS Claims of Vaccinating Border Patrol Agents Is ‘Smoke and Mirrors,’ Says BP Union

US Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol agents wearing masks for protection against COVID-19 check pedestrians IDs on April 1, 2020, on the Paso del Norte International Bridge between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas. - Both Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas, are on stay-at-home orders, but …
Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd called Department of Homeland Security claims of a program to vaccinate Border Patrol agents “smoke and mirror.” The issue of front-line agents came to the forefront on Tuesday when Texas Governor Greg Abbott demanded they receive COVID-19 vaccinations “this week.”

Responding to an inquiry from Breitbart Texas, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials said a COVID vaccination program is underway for the 64,000 front-line employees. Brandon Judd, in his capacity as president of the National Border Patrol Council, called the plans “smoke and mirrors.”

“There is no higher priority than the health and safety of our workforce,” a DHS spokesperson said in an emailed response to the Breitbart inquiry. “On January 25, DHS established Operation Vaccinate Our Workforce (Operation VOW) to accelerate the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to our personnel. Currently over 64,000 frontline DHS employees, including members of the U.S. Border Patrol, have received a vaccination.”

Judd responded to DHS, saying, “Operation Vaccinate Our Workforce is smoke and mirrors. It is done through the VA and only at a select few VA Hospitals. Periodic emails are sent to BP Agents and you get placed on a long waiting list.”

DHS officials claim more than 24 percent of their front-line employees have been vaccinated. However, Border Patrol agents fall into the program’s Phase 1B category — behind “first responders with a direct nexus to healthcare.”

Judd called the program from DHS a “bureaucratic nightmare.” He said the agency’s plans to distribute the vaccine through VA facilities limit agents’ ability to obtain the protection they deserve. He said vaccines are reportedly available at VA hospitals in Harlingen and El Paso, Texas, along the border. Otherwise, agents must travel inland to facilities in San Antonio and Phoenix. “I am not aware of any in New Mexico and California,” he said.

“The process is inefficient at best and very few employees are able to get vaccinated,” the Border Patrol union chief concluded.

The issue of vaccinations for Border Patrol agents came to a head earlier this week when Governor Abbott called DHS’s failure to vaccinate Border Patrol agents “one of the most reprehensible things I have heard.” His comment came following a meeting with Border Patrol agents where they told him they could not get the vaccine.

“We have Border Patrol [agents] whose lives are on the line of a daily basis — an hourly basis — and the Biden Administration will not provide those Border Patrol [agents] with the vaccinations they need” the outraged governor stated. “The Biden Administration should surge vaccines to Texas to all men and women on the Border Patrol this week.”

“Anything less than that is the epitome of inhumanity,” Abbot stated.

Following DHS’s rebuttal of the governor’s comments, Breitbart Texas reached out to Governor Abbot for a response.

“The Biden Administration not providing vaccinations for Border Patrol officers is one of the most reprehensible things I’ve ever heard,” the governor added. “We alerted the federal government to this crisis a month ago, and yet they still haven’t acted to vaccinate these brave officers.”

Border Patrol Agent Hector Garza, in his capacity as president of NBPC Local 2455 in Laredo, Texas, told Breitbart he is not aware of any Border Patrol agents in his area receiving the vaccine.

Agent Chris Cabrera, spokesman for NBPC Local 3307 in the Rio Grande Valley Sector added, “We have had some agents vaccinated through the service and administered by the VA. But, by far, most have done it on their own through local county resources.”

The Rio Grande Valley Sector is the nation’s busiest sector in terms of migrant apprehensions.

A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said DHS “is exploring additional pathways to identify and prioritize COVID-19 vaccine allocations for frontline personnel, including by coordinating with state and local authorities.”

Governor Abbott told Breitbart he confirmed with the Texas Division of Emergency Management that the federal government “has not sent vaccine allocations for Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley.”

“These brave men and women risk their lives every second of every day to protect Americans and our border and uphold our nation’s law,” the governor said. “They deserve nothing less than the same level of commitment from the federal government and the country they serve.”

The Texas governor again called on President Joe Biden to take action on this issue.

“I’m calling on the Biden Administration to surge vaccines to all men and women of the Border Patrol this week and ensure that every Border Patrol officer in the state of Texas will be vaccinated this week,” Abbott concluded. “Anything less is the epitome of inhumanity.”

Breitbart Texas asked DHS and CBP officials to report how many Border Patrol agents have been vaccinated.

CBP personnel (Border Patrol agents and CBP officers and agents) are in Phase 1A or Phase 1B according to CDC prioritization guidance.

DHS states:

  • Phase 1A: CBP employees identified as first responders with a direct nexus to healthcare. Employees in this group were notified of their eligibility to receive the vaccine in late December 2020.
  • Phase 1B: CBP employees identified as all other first responders and law enforcement. Employees in this group were notified of their eligibility to receive the vaccine in early January 2021.

Border Patrol agents are exposed to COVID-infected migrants on a routine basis. Their job description frequently does not allow for social distancing or other protection measures, Border Patrol agents previously told Breitbart.

In September, Breitbart Texas reported about agents rescuing a migrant woman who fell unconscious after being pulled out of a grain hopper rail car. Agents worked to save the woman’s life and later learned she tested positive for COVID-19.

“With a noted increase in COVID-19 infections among detainees, smugglers continue showing their lack of regard for the safety of the people they exploit by placing them in compromising, cramped spaces without regard to high temperatures, PPE, or means of escape,” Laredo Sector officials stated. “In doing so, not only do they endanger those being smuggled, but they also endanger our agents and communities.”

The City of Brownsville, Texas, reported last week that six percent of the migrants being released at bus stations by Border Patrol officials tested positive for COVID-19. All of these migrants were in contact with multiple Border Patrol agents and other CBP employees and contractors.

Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior news contributor for the Breitbart Texas-Border team. He is an original member of the Breitbart Texas team. Price is a regular panelist on Fox 26 Houston’s What’s Your Point? Sunday-morning talk show. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX and Facebook.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with comments from additional Border Patrol agents/NBPC representatives.

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