WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday confirmed that the government isn’t requiring COVID-19 vaccines for people who illegally cross the US-Mexico border — despite President Biden’s new vaccine mandates for about two-thirds of US workers.
“That’s correct,” Psaki told Fox News reporter Peter Doocy at her daily press briefing.
Psaki gave the curt reply when Doocy asked, “It is a requirement for people at a business with more than 100 people. It is not a requirement for migrants at the southern border. Why?”
She did not elaborate.
Biden’s new vaccine mandates impact federal workers and contractors, employees of private companies of 100 or more people, health care workers and some teachers.
Psaki said that “some of these requirements are the next lever needed to get more people vaccinated.”
In July, more than 212,000 people illegally crossed the southern border, exceeding the more than 180,000 people apprehended in both May and June. Unaccompanied children and some families are allowed to stay in the US, but most single adults are deported under a Trump administration COVID-19 policy.
Biden’s vaccine mandates, announced Thursday, apply to about 100 million Americans. Most federal workers and contractors must get vaccinated if they don’t qualify for religious or medical exceptions. And a new Labor Department rule will require companies and organizations with 100 workers or more to either impose a vaccine mandate or subject staff to weekly testing.
Psaki said businesses would incur fines of up to $13,600 per violation and that businesses should choose the “more cost-effective” option of requiring workers to be vaccinated, rather than eating the cost of weekly testing.
She fended off a reporter’s question about whether the mandate would worsen the already existing struggles of many businesses to recruit low-wage workers. The lack of available workers had been widely blamed on enhanced federal pandemic unemployment benefits that ended this week.
“I understand you may be asking me about smaller businesses, but it’s for employees of 100 and more,” Psaki said.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that among vaccine refusers, 42 percent said they would rather quit their job than submit to a shot.
In addition to his strict mandate on federal workers and contractors and the looming rule for larger businesses, Biden on Thursday mandated vaccines for about 17 million employees of health care facilities and 300,000 teachers in Head Start programs for poor children.
Psaki asserted that the mandate on businesses is on sound legal ground under laws granting authority to the the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“This is a tool, a step that again, there’s legal authority for based on a 50-year-old law,” Psaki said.
But she added that it’s not within the government’s power to order every US resident to get vaccinated.
“We don’t have the ability to tell every American, ‘You have to be vaccinated,’” she said.
According to CDC data, 75.3 percent of US adults have had at least one coronavirus vaccine shot. But vaccination rates vary among states and the national infection rate is as high as it was in late January, when few Americans were vaccinated.
The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association came out against Biden’s mandate on federal workers and the American Federation of Government Employees said “[w]e expect to bargain over this change prior to implementation.”
Biden outlined the new mandates after his approval rating tanked in several recent national polls, including because of lower support for his pandemic management as the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 drives the increase in infections.