Abstract: Latinx Immigrant-Serving Organizations in Houston during the Pandemic: A Case Study (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

148P Latinx Immigrant-Serving Organizations in Houston during the Pandemic: A Case Study

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Flor Avellaneda, MSW, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Jennifer Siegel, MSW, Social Work PhD Student, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Negi Nalini, Associate Professor, University of Maryland Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Danielle Parrish, PhD, Professor, Baylor University, Houston, TX
Sandra Perez, Student, Baylor University
Background and Purpose: While Houston is generally considered a welcoming city to immigrants, rising anti-immigrant federal and Texas state policies have impacted the livelihoods of undocumented immigrants locally. As COVID-19 spread across the U.S., Houston quickly emerged as a COVID-19 “hot spot” in Texas. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated preexisting disparities among Latinx immigrants who experienced significant economic hardship and disproportionate COVID-19 disease burden. Yet, little is known about how COVID-19 has impacted the context and conditions of social services with Latinx immigrants. This understanding is especially critical in large, urban “hot spot” areas like Houston, Texas among a growing Latinx population and a limited culturally and linguistically appropriate health and social service infrastructure.

Methods: Case study methods were implemented to explore the experiences of social service organizations working with Latinx immigrants in Houston during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data sources included, a survey with social service organizations serving Latinx immigrants (N=14), media sources, and official Houston government communications. Narrative survey responses were thematically coded to identify patterns and themes in social service delivery with Latinx immigrants. Descriptive statistics from the survey were analyzed using SPSS including characteristics of participant organizations and their experiences and challenges serving Latinx immigrants during the pandemic. Further, a variety of media sources and official Houston government communications were systematically reviewed to further understand the local structural context of the pandemic.

Results: Job loss and economic insecurity left many Latinx immigrant families in Houston without regular income to cover the costs of basic needs. Organizations in Houston faced multiple challenges meeting the heightened service needs of the Latinx immigrant community including workforce and organizational capacity. The majority of participants (85.8%) indicated the social service needs of Latinx immigrants changed to a moderate or a great extent, while over one in four participants indicated they were only able to meet the needs of their Latinx immigrants to a small extent. Social service providers adapted quickly to continue to provide services, but also expressed stress and frustration in their inability to fully meet the growing needs of their Latinx immigrant clients. They felt constrained by Latinx immigrant clients’ restricted access to the social service safety net and their fear of seeking services related to the public charge rule, especially as most participants reported their clients were undocumented immigrants or asylum seekers. One participant expressed their frustration: “It has been extremely difficult...My hands are tied and it is very sad that I cannot assist these individuals more.” Still, participants expressed gratitude for their role providing services to Latinx immigrants during the pandemic. Some described their work as “fulfilling” and felt they were able to make a difference during a time of such heightened needs.

Conclusion and Implications: Findings underscore how the intersection of anti-immigrant policies and scarcity of social services for Latinx immigrants exacerbated inequities in the social service infrastructure for Latinx immigrants in Houston. Related, findings elucidate understanding regarding the mental health toll as well as resiliencies of social service work during a time of public health crisis.