LOS ANGELES – A Latino civil rights organization warned California state health officials and a public university healthcare system that requiring – or even appearing to require — a social security number or other immigration status information for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment is a violation of state law, according to two letters sent Tuesday.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) sent letters to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the University of California San Diego Health (UCSD Health) explaining that appearing to require proof of citizenship or lawful presence in the United States could deter undocumented and other immigrants from getting the COVID-19 vaccine and violates California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. The Unruh Act prohibits discrimination against any individual based on race, national origin or immigration status.

“Our state faces enough challenges to achieve widespread immunization against COVID-19,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “We should not be compounding those challenges by misleading those who may be most at risk from the continuing pandemic.”

MALDEF sent a letter to the California State Public Health Officer (CDPH) and its director after hearing from people who made vaccine appointments through California’s My Turn website. According to the letter, emails and texts confirming the vaccine appointments include a link to the Covered California webpage called “Proof of Immigration Status or Lawful Presence.”  Sending the page link may mislead some undocumented immigrants to believe they are not eligible to receive the vaccine, the letter says. Additionally, the confirmation emails, texts or webpage do not include the information that COVID-19 vaccines cannot be denied based on immigration status.

MALDEF also requested that CDPH inform registrants that COVID-19 vaccines cannot be denied based on immigration status and to remove the link to the “Proof of Immigration” webpage.

A second letter was sent to the UCSD Health because the university’s vaccine registration website has a required field for a social security number. Requesting such information incorrectly implies that a person must have a social security number to get a vaccine, and that people without social security numbers, including undocumented immigrants, are not eligible for a vaccine, according to the letter.  MALDEF asked the university to revise its materials and websites to remove the request for a social security number or expressly offer an alternative such as an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or “000-00-0000” directly on its scheduling form.  That alternative is only reflected on a separate webpage.

In both cases, MALDEF points out that practices or policies that deter people from getting the vaccine puts the unvaccinated and their communities at risk.

“It is troubling that, this far into vaccine distribution efforts, the CDPH’s and UCSD’s carelessness may discourage the very immigrant communities most negatively affected by the deadly pandemic from receiving the vaccines to which they are entitled,” said MALDEF attorney Juan Rodriguez.

Read the letter to the California Department of Public Health HERE.

Read the letter to the University of California, San Diego HERE.