Floria Henriquez talks about her experience asking about vaccine requirements at the local Walmart on Thursday, April 1, 2021 in Logansport. Jonah Hinebaugh | Pharos-Tribune
Floria Henriquez talks about her experience asking about vaccine requirements at the local Walmart on Thursday, April 1, 2021 in Logansport. Jonah Hinebaugh | Pharos-Tribune
Sadly, her account is not unique.

From the U.S. to Europe, stories abound of undocumented residents struggling to gain access to a COVID19 vaccine.

But Floria Henriquez of Logansport is choosing to use her voice to tell one side of an important issue. This week, she said one of her friends visited Walmart on Mall Road to get a COVID-19 vaccine and was refused.

Her friend and several others, along with their family members, have resided here for several years. They remain undocumented residents, but work in this community and send their children to schools here. And when Floria’s friend went to get a vaccine, she was told she was ineligible due to her status. Floria said it’s unfair — and discriminatory — that she cannot get a vaccine.

And based upon the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, she is correct.

In fact, the DHS encourages everyone, “regardless of immigration status,” to receive the vaccine.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have stated that they will not conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine sites.

“I want to make sure they all are able to get vaccinated and so they’re protected from COVID, without ICE or anyone else interfering,” said President Joe Biden at a recent interview. He further said that undocumented immigrants should be able to have access to the COVID-19 vaccine without fear of deportation.

According to the American Immigration Council, Indiana has more than 354,000 immigrants with approximately 144,000 Hoosiers, including 68,000 U.S. citizens living in Indiana, with at least one family member who is an undocumented resident.

“It’s not fair,” said Floria. While these individuals may not be documented residents, “they work here, live here, and send their children to local schools.”

Yet, according to Walmart’s Pharmacy Manager Beth Kesling, who was personally unaware of this particular incident, the store has been out of vaccines for almost three to four weeks. “We should start getting new ones in at the start of next week.”

Plus, said Kesling, people who want a vaccine must register at the website ourshot. in.gov and complete the questionnaire. This step is where people would verify address, prior vaccines, and any other pertinent information.

But Floria – who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – remains concerned that her friends won’t be able to get the same treatment. And she said that she and her husband, Antonio Barientos, are afraid to have their children and grandchildren in public places, knowing others are not vaccinated.

This country is not out of the pandemic yet and Cass County’s positive cases continue to hover above 5,600, with new cases reported daily, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

“They could be contagious,” Floria said of her friends, adding that it’s better to have more people vaccinated. But when people ask to see state identification such as a driver’s license or insurance cards, Floria said, her friends cannot produce those items. They don’t have them.

And it’s not even a requirement.

Cass County Health Department’s Serenity Alter said all a person needs to show is proof that he or she lives in Indiana. That could include a driver’s license, a work ID, or even a passport.

Notified by Floria of the issue, “We’ll make sure she gets her vaccine,” Alter said of Floria’s friend as well as anyone else who needs a shot. “I want to see as many people as possible get vaccinated.”

That’s all Floria is asking. “We need to help each other and be healthy. If we can’t help each other out, what does that say about us? The U.S. has more positive cases and people are still dying. I’ve lost four friends who live in New York,” where she resided before moving to Logansport 16 years ago.

“I want to see no one infected or dying anymore,” she said, adding that her friends choose Walmart because that’s where they get their groceries. Since they depend on someone else for transportation, they try to complete errands in one trip. That included attempting to get vaccinated at the retail store.

Alter said she wonders if the incident is one of a lack of understanding because of a language barrier. “I haven’t heard of any problems with Walmart,” which is why she said it would be a good idea for people to have a translator with them when going to vaccine sites. Not only would that help with comprehending what is required, she said it helps ensure people understand side-effects of the vaccine as well as any health concerns that people need to be aware of following a shot.

The Bridge’s Zach Szmara agreed with Alter.

Estimating that around 1,000 undocumented residents live in Logansport with about 20 percent of the overall population speaking a language other than English, Szmara said there’s not only a language barrier, there is a cultural barrier.

“There are not a lot of resources in other languages, and it’s not easy to know how to sign up for a vaccine,” he said. Between language issues and technology, he said people fail to understand exactly how difficult this process is for those who do not speak English as a first language, or at all.

“I have a Master’s degree, and I found (the process) difficult,” he said, adding that he couldn’t begin to fathom how hard the process would be for those who have these barriers. That why he wants the community to know The Bridge and Immigration Connection at 301 E. Linden Ave. have interpreters and agents who could help.

Kesling said as long as everything is completed and eligibility is determined through the online site, people will be able to get vaccinated.

That news should make Floria happy. “They have moved here already and are a part of us,” she said of her friends. “They should be vaccinated just like everyone else. Anything else is absolutely not right.”
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