By Zachary Stieber
Nearly 22,000 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees have sought exemptions to the U.S. government’s federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, but all of the requests remain in limbo, according to newly obtained documents.
Key agencies within DHS could face a massive loss of workers if the requests aren’t resolved, a watchdog warns.
Over 8,100 employees with Customs and Border Protection, which includes Border Patrol agents, have asked for a medical or religious exemption to the mandate, imposed by President Joe Biden in 2021. Over 5,800 Transportation Security Administration workers have requested accommodations. Over 2,800 Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees have sought exemptions on religious or medical grounds.
But none of the requests have been acted upon yet, DHS told the Functional Government Initiative (FGI), the watchdog that obtained the data.
Biden ordered agencies to implement the mandate in September 2021. Government workers were told to get vaccinated, but that they could apply for medical or religious exemptions.
The Biden administration was sued over the mandate, with lawsuits alleging it was unconstitutional. Feds for Medical Freedom, a group of government workers, filed one of the suits.
The group won an injunction against the mandate in January. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown, a Trump appointee, said the mandate was outside of the president’s powers.
The government’s vaccine workforce, based on the ruling, told agencies to “take no action to implement or enforce” the mandate.
In compliance with the injunction, “DHS halted the review process and has not taken any action to implement or enforce the vaccination requirement” as of Jan. 24, Rosemary Law, a DHS Freedom of Information Act officer, told FGI in documents reviewed by The Epoch Times. That means no exemptions have been granted, she indicated.
The watchdog asserts the government should continue processing the requests, so that employees know if they’re in danger of being fired.
“They absolutely should have been processing these so that the people who have filled out these exemption requests kind of have an idea of where it’s going to go because right now, we have 22,000 people wondering if they’re going to have a job,” Pete McGinnis, a spokesman for FGI, told The Epoch Times.
Many of the employees who have asked for an exemption work on immigration matters, including thousands stationed at or near the U.S.–Mexico border. The Biden administration is already grappling with an illegal immigration crisis that has broken records for the number of arrests at the border, and firing immigration officers would make things worse, McGinnis added.
DHS did not respond to a request for comment.
Of the other DHS components, the number of workers who have asked for exemptions are as follows: over 1,700 Federal Emergency Management Agency workers, nearly 1,300 United States Citizenship and Immigration Services workers, 680 U.S. Coast Guard workers, nearly 500 U.S. Secret Service workers, 333 DHS headquarter workers, 167 Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers workers, and just over 100 Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency workers.
The case over the mandate has since moved forward. An appeals court panel overturned Brown’s decision, but later dissolved that ruling as the full court prepares to hear arguments from the parties.