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College of Social Work

Faculty Receive Funding for Research on Immigrant-Serving Organizations During COVID-19

May 13, 2020
Chris Woodley •

While the coronavirus pandemic has changed our world, it has provided an opportunity to research and learn more about how COVID-19 and the treatments have affected different populations and areas of society. Thanks to the university’s COVID-19 Research Initiative, Associate Professor Ben Roth and Assistant Professor Bongki Woo have begun developing their research regarding social services available to immigrant populations.   

Last month, the Office of the Vice President for Research announced the recipients of the COVID-19 Research Initiative to support scholarship related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Roth and Woo’s research are one of 42 funded projects involving eight colleges and schools and 29 departments. The initiative will enable faculty to begin impactful new research projects and generate preliminary results that could be developed on a larger scale to secure additional funding for more comprehensive studies.

The title of Roth and Woo’s research is, “Responding to COVID-19: The Role of Immigrant-Serving Organizations.” Their study will explore the impact of COVID-19 on immigrant communities and how local organizations have responded during the crisis. Using an online survey with organizational leaders and follow-up phone interviews, Roth and Woo intend to explore organizational response patterns and how they developed.

“Local human service organizations provide many kinds of services for vulnerable populations, and we suspect they are even more critical now, particularly for immigrant communities,” says Roth, who is the primary investigator for the study. “These organizations include mental health providers, health clinics, food pantries, and legal service providers.

We are partnering with research teams at the University of Tennessee, the University of Maryland and Louisiana State University to survey human service organizations across a seven-state region. With this grant, we have been able to expand the reach of our study and develop a more sophisticated instrument to measure the impact of COVID-19 on the sector of immigrant-serving organizations in this region.”

According to Roth, immigrants across South Carolina and the Southeast are integral to the social, cultural and economic fabric of the communities where they live and work. While many communities have welcomed immigrants, it has not been universal throughout the region.

“Some of the harshest anti-immigrant legislation in the country has been enacted in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina. This puts a greater burden on local entities like human service organizations to provide services and advocacy support for immigrants,” Roth says.

Woo is collaborating with Roth on the research study and says that while COVID-19 has infected and killed people in different groups, it has brought race and ethnicity to the forefront. For example, undocumented immigrants are unable to access health care for their symptoms and treatment, and Asian Americans are experiencing an increase in hate crime and racial discrimination.

“Local immigrant-serving organizations are positioned to respond to the needs of immigrants and can provide a buffer that creates opportunity for integration,” Woo says. “Amid COVID-19 pandemic and hostile sociopolitical conditions that impede immigrant integration, the organizations role to serve local immigrant communities has become even more important.

This project will go beyond documenting immigrants’ own experiences by investigating organizational-level efforts to improve conditions. It offers a wider lens on immigrant integration, with attention to various geographical and political contexts, especially in the Deep South.”

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