The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Human Service Organizations and Immigration Reform: Administrators' Knowledge About Immigration Policy

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 11:15 AM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon C, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Bethany G. Womack, MSW, Doctoral Student and Research Assistant, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Brenda D. Smith, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Purpose:  As the federal government considers immigration reform and states adopt new immigration laws, social workers and other providers of human services are on the frontlines of shifting, uncertain, and challenging policy and practice terrain.  To effectively meet the needs of immigrant families, human service organizations must be knowledgeable about immigration policy.  To date, however, few studies have assessed the preparedness of human services organizations to meet the needs of immigrant families in changing immigration policy contexts.       Based in theories of social dominance (Esses et al., 2001) and perceived threat (Stephan, et al., 2005), and related research (e.g., Park, et al., 2011), this study assesses the knowledge and attitudes of human services administrators in one state policy context.   It tests three hypotheses: (1) Due to social work’s emphasis on cultural competence, human services administrators with social work degrees will be more knowledgeable about immigration policy than will administrators with other types of degrees; (2) Administrators who hold more favorable attitudes toward immigrants will be more knowledgeable about immigration policy; (3) Administrators who are more knowledgeable about immigration policy will be more likely to implement immigrant-friendly organizational policies. 

Methods:  The study involves a survey of human services administrators in a southeastern state.  Of 1,310 human services organizations in a sampling frame formed using a 2-1-1 database, 400 were randomly selected.  Administrators received an e-mail invitation to participate in an online survey.   The current response rate is 49 percent.  The survey includes study-derived measures of organizational policy and practices, and administrator knowledge of state immigration policy.  It also includes an adapted immigration attitudes scale (Park, et al., 2011).  Multivariate regression models were conducted to test the study hypotheses.

Results:  A two-stage hierarchical linear (OLS) regression model indicates that administrators in organizations that receive public funding are less knowledgeable about immigration policy than are administrators in organizations with only non-public funding sources.  Having a social work degree is not associated with knowledge about immigration policy (failing to support hypothesis 1).  Also, as attitudes toward immigrants are more favorable, administrators are more knowledgeable about immigration policy (supporting hypothesis 2).   A logistic regression model indicates that organizations are more likely to adopt immigration-friendly policies when administrators hold more positive attitudes toward immigrants, but administrator knowledge is not associated with immigrant-friendly policy (failing to support hypothesis 3). 

Implications:  As immigration policy becomes increasingly important to the experiences of immigrant families, the policy knowledge deficits of many human service providers become more troubling (Padilla, et al., 2008).   In finding an association between administrator attitudes and knowledge about state policy, and between attitudes and organizational policy, this study begins to identify pathways to strengthen human service providers’ knowledge and improve immigrant services.   One pathway to greater policy knowledge may be via promoting more favorable attitudes toward immigrants which can, in turn, promote more curiosity about immigration policy and more urgency to understand it.   In addition to cultural competence, social work education should more effectively teach students and alumni how to remain knowledgeable about immigration policy and its implications.