Session: Exposed Vulnerabilities: Immigrant Communities, Structural Inequalities, and the Response of Local Organizations and Providers (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

32 Exposed Vulnerabilities: Immigrant Communities, Structural Inequalities, and the Response of Local Organizations and Providers

Thursday, January 13, 2022: 3:15 PM-4:45 PM
Marquis BR Salon 14, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
Cluster: Immigrants and Refugees
Symposium Organizer:
Benjamin Roth, PhD, University of South Carolina
COVID-19 (COVID) has generated widespread social and economic uncertainty in the United States, but it has also exposed the severity of long-standing structural disadvantages experienced by immigrants. Low-income immigrants are particularly vulnerable, and for many of these families the challenges associated with poverty are compounded by factors such as limited English proficiency (LEP), immigration status, and lack of health insurance. Many undocumented immigrants work in service industries that were directly affected by the precipitous economic decline in 2020—an estimated 10 percent of all restaurant workers are undocumented immigrants, for example—but they did not receive cash assistance from Trump’s multi-billion dollar federal stimulus plan. Others in the farming and meat processing industries kept their jobs, but these environments left workers (and, by extension, their communities) at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19. Finally, unfairly targeting and blaming immigrants for crime, disease, and other social ills has been historically commonplace in the United States.

There is reason to believe that these structural disadvantages are magnified for immigrants in new destination areas—places such as the American Southeast with relatively new immigrant populations. These states have some of the fastest-growing immigrant communities in the country, yet mainstream institutions that immigrants may rely on as a safety net during times of need (e.g., hospitals, schools, and law enforcement) have been relatively slow to respond to the specialized needs of immigrants, especially those who are LEP, undocumented, and/or uninsured. These factors have placed the burden of outreach and service delivery squarely on the shoulders of immigrant-serving organizations in this region that were already under-resourced and often, at full capacity. Without public health crisis planning, tasks such as coordinating volunteers, resources, and supplies were often engineered on the fly. Many organizations relied on existing outreach and service delivery strategies which, even before the pandemic, had limited success in immigrant communities. As we learned following Hurricane Katrina, this approach can mean that socially vulnerable groups such as immigrants are outside the reach of extant formal relief efforts. This confluence of factors—the social vulnerability of immigrants, the lack of a social safety net, and an under-resourced non-profit sector—raise questions about how local immigrant-serving organizations have strategically identified and addressed the needs of immigrants, particularly in new immigrant settlement states.

This symposium explores how local organizations and providers responded to the needs of immigrant communities during the pandemic. Using a variety of methods, including survey and in-depth interviews, these papers identify the obstacles providers encountered to meeting the needs of immigrants and the mental health toll on providers. Each of them focuses on a different state in the Southeast. Together they begin to reveal the wider landscape of social service provision in place for immigrant communities across this region—including gaps and (at times surprising) signs of capacity.

* noted as presenting author
Immigrant-Serving Social Service Providers' Work Stress and Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Mixed Methods Study
Nalini Negi, Ph.D., University of Maryland at Baltimore; Jennifer Siegel, MSW, University of Maryland at Baltimore
Serving Latinx Immigrants in Southeastern Exclusionary Policy States: Provider Perspectives
Mary Held, PhD, LCSW, The University of Tennessee; Porter Jennings, LCSW, University of Georgia
Brokering Resources during a Pandemic: Exploring How Organizations and Clinics Responded to the Needs of Immigrant Communities during COVID-19
Benjamin Roth, PhD, University of South Carolina; Bongki Woo, PhD, University of South Carolina; John Doering-White, PhD, University of South Carolina
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