Abstract: Serving Latinx Immigrants in Southeastern Exclusionary Policy States: Provider Perspectives (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Serving Latinx Immigrants in Southeastern Exclusionary Policy States: Provider Perspectives

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 14, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Mary Held, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, The University of Tennessee, Nashville, TN
Porter Jennings, LCSW, PhD Candidate, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Background and Purpose

New Southeastern immigrant destinations, such as Tennessee and Georgia, are at the forefront of interior immigration enforcement efforts. In addition, these states lack well-established formal provider-based supports or large co-ethnic communities for informal support. This context of heightened enforcement coupled with fewer supports elevates risk of social service needs, while also presenting access barriers (Becerra et al., 2020; Hatzenbuehler et al., 2017). The current study was designed to strengthen knowledge related to service provision with Latinx immigrants in the exclusionary policy states of Tennessee and Georgia.


A cross-sectional survey study design was employed to gather data from health, mental health, and legal providers (n = 109) in 2019 and 2020. Sampling strategies included purposive and snowball methods. Informed by existing literature, multiple-item measures were created to assess provider perceptions of service needs, utilization barriers, policy-related fear, and organizational and community capacity to address client needs. In addition to descriptive data, independent samples t-tests were conducted to assess variance in means by the state in which participants worked.


Participants had worked with Latinx immigrants for an average of 10.34 years (SD = 6.6). Over half (54.01%) of clients served were Latinx immigrants, 36.09% were undocumented, 73.72% spoke Spanish, and 16.81% spoke a non-Spanish dialect. Most prevalently reported service needs included financial hardship, fear of deportation, and employment. The most reported access barriers included language, lack of driver’s license, lack of insurance, cost, and fear of deportation. Most participants (85.7%) reported that the organizations where they worked were “very supportive” of serving Latinx immigrants, with 51.2% indicating that staff could effectively build trust with immigrant clients. Providers reported their communities (10.9%) and local schools (30.4%) to be welcoming to a “great extent.”

Comparative analyses found that providers in Georgia reported that fear associated with both federal (M = 2.86; SD = 0.35) and local (M = 2.48; SD = 0.69) policies impacted service utilization to a greater extent than did Tennessee providers (Federal policies: M = 1.80, SD = 0.81; Local policies: M = 1.78, SD = 0.64). Tennessee providers reported a higher caseload of clients speaking a non-Spanish dialect than in Georgia. Community capacity was perceived as higher in Tennessee (M = 14.44, SD = 2.28) than in Georgia (M = 11.96, SD = 2.12).

Conclusions & Implications

Findings yield meaningful data specific to two new destinations with exclusionary immigration policies. Micro and macro level providers can best serve immigrant clients by establishing stronger trust and incorporating knowledge of prevailing service needs and access barriers. Assessing for and addressing financial hardship, lack of employment, and deportation fears are essential. Offering services in homes, schools, places of worship, and virtually can aid in addressing access barriers. Findings also underscore the discrete contexts and needs of two states with high rates of enforcement. Future research should include Latinx immigrant participants to assess service provision strategies that will be most accessible and beneficial in each state.