TAMPA (KPNX/NBC News) – Republican Congresswoman Debbie Lesko of Arizona is defending remarks she made while urging a U.S. House committee to move undocumented immigrants to the back of the line for vaccinations.
The failed effort would have run counter to public health guidelines in Arizona and advice from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
One of those amendments to President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package would have sent undocumented immigrants to the back of the line for coronavirus vaccines.
“No vaccines for illegal immigrants jumping to the head of the line to get vaccines,” Congressman Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, the amendment’s sponsor, said when introducing the amendment. “They’ve done it once, by jumping to the head of the line to enter this country, and they’ll do it again.”
Lesko spoke next.
“All this amendment says is put Americans first! Put Americans first!” Lesko exclaimed. “Once they’re all vaccinated, then you can go to the illegal immigrants.”
Lesko appeared to conflate undocumented immigrants with all Hispanics.
“I worked with people that are Hispanic,” she said. “They’re very good workers.”
But that was not good enough for Lesko.
“I’m just not going to be able to explain to my senior citizens that we’re giving away the vaccine to people that aren’t here legally,” she added.
Democrats argued that essential workers across the country include undocumented immigrants, so keeping them from being vaccinated wouldn’t help slow the spread of the virus.
Lesko said in a statement to several news outlets that what she said was something “that could be misinterpreted,” but she doubled down on her comments on social media, tweeting: “It’s outrageous that Democrats are prioritizing illegal immigrants over American citizens! Their Covid-19 ‘plan’ would allow illegal immigrants to get vaccinated ahead of our nation’s seniors who are desperately waiting to get vaccinated.”