Legislator warns ‘chilling effect’ of nabbing vaccinated undocumented migrant workers

Legislator Chiu Hsien-chih (邱顯智) advised the government against going back on their word and arresting undocumented migrant workers getting vaccinated for fear of creating the "chilling effect". (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

TAIPEI (The China Post) — New Power Party (時代力量) legislator Chiu Hsien-chih (邱顯智) advised the Taiwanese government against arresting undocumented migrant workers when they receive vaccines for fear of inducing the “chilling effect” among the community.

His comments came after it was reported a Filipino undocumented migrant worker was arrested on Tuesday when she headed to a vaccination center to receive her vaccine.

According to reports, she decided to get vaccinated after being persuaded by the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC, 中央流行疫情指揮中心) assurance that this wouldn’t be a ploy to capture them.

However, due to some complications with her paperwork and a dispute with staff members, she was taken into custody by the police and was only released after the action caused public outrage and the CECC reiterated that migrant workers are not to be arrested for showing up to receive vaccines.

To this, Chiu remarked that the incident may lead to migrant workers not trusting the government and risking their safety and the safety of all Taiwanese, by opting not to receive vaccines for fear of being repatriated.

He pointed out that undocumented migrant workers live in our society among us, and often have jobs as domestic caregivers, factory workers, industrial laborers, farmers, or caretakers at nursing homes.

Due to their close contact with everyone, it should be in the interest of everyone to allow them to receive vaccines in peace, Chiu added.

Nonetheless, even though the “vaccination project for people who have overstayed in Taiwan” drawn up by the National Immigration Agency (NIA, 移民署) claims to adopt the principle of “no reporting, no investigation, no charge” towards undocumented migrant workers, in fact, they must first go to the special service teams of the NIA, write a confession, and pay the fines of overstaying.

Afterward, they need to wait to be “noted” into a book kept by the Exit-Entry Administration (出入境管理局) before they can get vaccinated.

Chiu remarked that the system is designed so that only those who were already planning to head back home would risk showing up to receive vaccines.

He added that no rational undocumented migrant workers would dare get vaccinated as the government has failed to provide a safe space for them.

To this, he advised that in order to rebuild the trust, the government should consider opening up “no identification” vaccinations, depending on the supply and demand of vaccines.

In this way, undocumented migrant workers do not have to provide any relevant identification, Chiu said, pointing out that the U.K. and the U.S. adopt similar approaches.

He acknowledged that this proposal may lead to some receiving more shots of vaccines than is necessary but said that as the supply is sufficient for now, it shouldn’t be the first concern.

He also suggested asking trusted non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help carry out vaccinations, as they are more accessible and can register relevant data into a system that is independent of the government.

He explained that in this way, undocumented migrant workers won’t need to choose between the dilemma of receiving vaccines and being arrested, or not receiving vaccines and being infected.

Chiu stressed that asking undocumented migrant workers to turn themselves in and pay a fine is an incomprehensible way to deal with this situation.

Only by re-establishing the trust between Taiwan and the undocumented workers can the nation have a chance to close the distance to herd immunity.