Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa was at La 2nda Iglesia La Misión in midtown Kingston Sunday to encourage Hispanic immigrant families to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as he recently did.

The church’s pastor, Fernando Salazar, recently secured 150 doses from the county, which will be administered Saturday at the church, just blocks from most of his members’ homes. He enlisted Figueroa to speak at the church to quell fears and skepticism among the congregation ahead of vaccination day.

Salazar said Sheriff Figueroa is perfect for the job of addressing vaccine concerns among the immigrant community, as he himself is Hispanic, speaks Spanish, and has publicly supported pro-immigrant policies and laws.

What You Need To Know

  • Sheriff Figueroa is trying to reduce fears among immigrant communities about the COVID-19 vaccine

  • The pastor at 2nda Iglesia La Misión secured 150 doses for local immigrant families to be administered at the church

  • “I look like them and I speak the language,” Figueroa said, “so it’s important that they understand that they can trust me”

Figueroa told the group their livelihoods depend on vaccination. Without vaccination, families may continue lose important work hours due to illness, further setting them back financially, the sheriff said.

Many people in the room recently became eligible to receive the vaccine since they are restaurant and farm workers.

“It’s so important that you get vaccinated,” Figueroa said in Spanish to the socially distanced group of about 50, “because of economics...People have to work so much to make money and to live.”

Figueroa, who is of Puerto Rican descent, also stressed that their immigration status will not affect their vaccine eligibility.

“Obviously, there are some folks who are undocumented who feel that if they’re undocumented, they’re afraid to get the vaccination,” Figueroa said afterward in an interview. “They don’t have to be. The important thing is to stop this pandemic, and this pandemic doesn’t care if you’re a citizen or not.”

Salazar said it was invaluable for the group to hear this message in Spanish from the county’s top law enforcement official. He pointed out that many immigrants are concerned not just about the vaccine’s effects, but also the process of checking in at an official facility.

Many immigrant families still lack trust in institutions after immigration enforcement operations over the past three years.

“People can trust as part of the community, and we’ll let the Spanish community and the brown community [know] this is not a setup,” Salazar said. “This is something we need to get done. Everybody needs to get the vaccine.”

Church member and local school teacher Misael Villa said the assurances from the sheriff were crucial.

“This is one of the counties where Hispanic communities feel most safe,” he said of Ulster County. “I think all they needed was a little encouragement to get that help that the county is graciously providing.”

“It’s extremely important that if they see me, they trust me. And I’m somebody from the government,” Figueroa said. “I look like them and I speak the language. So it’s important that they understand that they can trust me.”

Figueroa has also been visiting other groups to address concerns about the vaccine.

Just after this talk at the Hispanic church in Kingston, he said he was headed to speak at another church with a mostly Jamaican congregation.