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Civil Rights in Emergencies and Disasters

The DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) supports individual and community resilience to natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or other emergencies. Through guidance, planning and coordination, CRCL works to ensure that civil rights and civil liberties are integrated into disaster-related policies and procedures. In addition, prior, to, during, and following a disaster, CRCL engages representatives of impacted communities and disseminates information to governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to ensure the protection of individuals with disabilities, immigrant populations, and racially and ethnically diverse communities, including those with limited English proficiency.

For information and resources on the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit: https://coronavirus.gov. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted many helpful resources to assist individuals in protecting themselves.

Selected Federal Civil Rights Resources Related to COVID-19

The White House

Ensuring equity for all persons is central to President Biden’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, including his Executive Order on Ensuring an Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery. The Administration has also announced a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. Federal civil rights laws also require nondiscrimination in the Nation’s efforts to vaccinate the public against the COVID-19 virus regardless of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, and other bases.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

DHS Statement on Equal Access to COVID-19 Vaccines and Vaccine Distribution Sites

Read the Statement in Multiple Languages

DHS and its Federal government partners fully support equal access to the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine distribution sites for undocumented immigrants. It is a moral and public health imperative to ensure that all individuals residing in the United States have access to the vaccine. DHS encourages all individuals, regardless of immigration status, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once eligible under local distribution guidelines.

DHS carries out its mission, including all areas within its COVID-19 response, without discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, or other protected class, and in compliance with law and policy. Further, DHS supports the equitable and efficient distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to all populations, including historically underserved communities.

To reach underserved and rural communities, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in collaboration with federal partners, will coordinate efforts to establish and support fixed facilities, pop-up or temporary vaccination sites, and mobile vaccination clinics. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics. Consistent with ICE’s long-standing sensitive locations policy, ICE does not and will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors' offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

DHS is committed to ensuring that every individual who needs a vaccine can get one, regardless of their immigration status.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

The HHS, Office of Civil Rights' COVID-19 page compiles links to many helpful resources, including the following:

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA is committed to ensuring equitable vaccine access. FEMA has established a Civil Rights Advisory Group to ensure equity in the allocation of vaccine resources comprising FEMA program offices and other federal agencies.

U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

National Council on Disability (NCD)

Following DHS listening sessions in many communities heavily impacted by natural disasters in 2017 and 2018, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties makes the following recommendations to state, local, territorial, and tribal emergency managers to improve the delivery of disaster assistance to disaster survivors with disabilities. The recommendations are grouped by major areas DHS covered in the listening sessions, which are: preparedness, evacuation, effective communication access for people with disabilities, sheltering, and long-term recovery.

Civil Rights Listening Sessions with Disability Stakeholders in Disaster Impacted Areas

The purpose of these listening sessions was to hear about concerns and experiences related to the impact of the disasters on individuals with disabilities. Participants also shared effective practices for serving individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs. By better understanding these experiences, and in partnership with state and local entities, including non-profit organizations, DHS can work to improve preparedness, response, and recovery for persons with disabilities in future disasters.

Federal laws prohibit discrimination in programs and activities receiving federal aid to ensure that actions, both intentional and unintentional, do not exclude anyone based on race, color, national origin (including limited English proficiency), disability, sex, religion, economic status, or familial status in the preparation, response, or recovery phases of emergency and disaster management.

CRCL and Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Joint Letter to State and Local Emergency Managers

Race, National Origin, Limited English Proficiency/Language Access


Request Technical Assistance

CRCL engages with community organizations and emergency managers to provide technical assistance on ensuring equal access to individuals with disabilities, diverse racial and ethnic communities, and those who are limited English proficient in disaster. Send requests for technical assistance to: crcl@hq.dhs.gov

or call 202-401-1474 | 1-866-644-8360 (toll free).

CRCL reviews and investigates civil rights and civil liberties complaints made by the public regarding U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies and activities as well as programs and activities of recipients of federal of financial assistance (e.g., grantees). For more information about filing a complaint with CRCL, visit: Make a Civil Rights Complaint.

Last Updated: 03/19/2024
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