Theme Panel: Pandemic, Precarity & Resilience

Pandemic, Precarity & Resilience

Co-sponsored by Division 52: Migration & Citizenship
Created Panel

(Chair) Louis DeSipio, University of California, Irvine

Session Description:
This panel explores the importance of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of varying classes of migrants and on the organizations attempting to assist them. COVID-19 did not just impact national government’s responses to immigration, it also significantly shaped the experiences of exclusion and inclusion of migrants on the ground and at varying levels of governance. This panel brings varying approaches and levels of analyses to uncover the varying ways that immigrants, immigrant serving organizations, local governments, and public perception about immigrants, were all impacted by COVID-19. Jennifer Martinez focuses on the importance of farmworkers in the United States as “essential workers” and documenting how their translocal and transnational networks offered critical support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jennie Schulze explores the reactionary politics at the national level and the COVID-19 pandemic places new strains on immigrant communities and service organizations, looking at new migration settlement in suburban and rural areas of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Robert Courtney Smith and Andres Besserer Rayas analyze highly COVID-impacted undocumented, Latinx, immigrant families in New York City COVID epicenters to study the impact of New York’s 2.1 billion dollar Excluded Workers Fund (EWF) – one of the few funds set up to support undocumented immigrants who were excluded from national funds – the health and wellbeing of different groups of immigrant populations. Turning to public opinion about immigrants, Megan Dias and Gregor Sharp employ a novel survey experiment to test whether the travel restrictions and border closures experienced by millions of Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic affected their empathy for immigrants and the immigrant experience and led to a change in their attitudes towards immigration policies.


Care, Information, and Trust among Farmworkers during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Jennifer Martinez, Portland State University

Farmworkers face many barriers to accessing culturally and linguistically appropriate information. Many remain unincorporated from everyday civic life in the United States and distrust government institutions due to the fear of deportation or workplace retaliation. Yet, even with surmounting uncertainty, this segment of the population continued to labor during the pandemic after being labeled “essential workers”. I explore how this group exchanged information throughout the pandemic to best support their family “translocally” and transnationally. The paper introduces the concept of care remittances as a lens by which to understand the long-existing information networks that activated throughout the pandemic as a strategy for subsistence, secure public goods, and sustaining the well-being of their transnational families and communities. Through 300 surveys and 48 in-depth interviews with Oregon farmworkers, I find farmworkers used a variety of information channels, information brokers and were active organizational agents in their communities as a way to best protect their families and deal with daily structural vulnerabilities aggravated by the pandemic. I challenge the narratives farmworkers are information-poor. Instead, I argue that as a consequence of institutional policies that continue to exclude farmworkers, their knowledge, and their contributions, credible information is based on confianza and compromiso, or trust and a commitment. Understanding these deep knowledge flows can shed light on how governments can improve their information practices to better reach, recognize, and serve this critical population underpinning our global food system.

City of Bridges: Welcoming Newcomers to Pittsburgh during Times of Crisis
Jennie Schulze, Duquesne University

Substantial research on immigrant integration has been conducted in gateway cities, such as New York or Los Angeles, however foreign-born populations have been growing more quickly in suburbs and rural areas of the United State (Williamson 2018, 2), demanding attention to how local responses shape immigrant experiences in these new places (Massey 2008).2 This paper, which is part of a larger book project that compares the experiences of refugee youth and service organizations across rust belt cities in the United States, focuses on the city of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s steel and coal industries attracted a variety of immigrants to the region around the turn of the 20th century, who have left their mark on the city’s landscape through its patchwork of neighborhoods that have retained their distinct ethnic character (Carpenter 2016). However, the collapse of the steel industry in the 1970s resulted in significant outmigration, a challenge further complicated by significant demographic decline in the city’s working age population. In 2014, Mayor William Peduto launched the “Welcoming Pittsburgh Plan,” which aimed to overcome that demographic deficit by attracting immigrants and refugees to the region. Today, the city is home to a more diverse immigrant population that includes sizeable refugee groups from non-European countries and a small but growing Latino population. The integration of immigrant communities happens “in place,” demanding attention to the evolution of policies and programs to serve immigrant communities, and the varied experiences of immigrant groups in this new immigrant destination. The large Bhutanese refugee community has enjoyed considerable success in organizing themselves and supporting the integration of their members, however smaller African communities have found themselves isolated and struggling to access resources, challenges that have been heightened in the wake of restrictive national policies and the COVID-19 pandemic. Through in-depth policy analysis at the city and county levels, interviews with city officials and immigrant serving organizations, as well focus group interviews with immigrant and refugee communities, this chapter addresses three interrelated questions: 1) How have the size and settlement patterns of different immigrant groups evolved since the adoption of the “Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative? 2) How have the policies, programs, and strategies of city government and immigrant serving organizations evolved to meet the needs of new immigrant communities and to encourage their integration? And 3) How have reactionary politics at the national level and the COVID-19 pandemic placed new strains on immigrant communities and service organizations, and what are the best practices that have emerged to encourage immigrant integration during times of crisis. In addressing these questions, the paper problematizes the intersection of policy with the varied experiences of immigrant groups that call Pittsburgh home. In doing so, it pays particular attention to marginalized and understudied groups, including refugee youth and undocumented populations, to better understand the challenges they are facing, their perceptions of receptivity, and how more intentional programing can encourage their integration. Carpenter, MacKenzie, “Sounds of Home in the Steel City,” The Pittsburgh Foundation, Spring 2016, at Williamson, Abigail Fisher, Welcoming New Americans? Local Governments and Immigrant Incorporation (University of Chicago, 2018). Massey, Douglas S., ed, New Faces in New Places: The Changing Geography of American Immigration (New York: Russel Sage, 2008).

Do Cities Create Citizens? Examining the Effects of City-Level Programs
Megan Dias, University of Texas at Austin

This paper uses a unique dataset of city policies and programs across the United States to examine whether the work cities across the country are doing to promote naturalization, and support immigrants on their path to citizens, leads to more immigrants becoming American citizens. There are currently over 9 million immigrants living in the United States who are eligible to become American citizens but have not yet gone through the process of acquiring citizenship. Understanding why these individuals have not become citizens is important, as immigrant naturalization is closely related to immigrant integration. By becoming a citizen, immigrants become better integrated in the social, political, and economic fabric of the United States. For this reason, scholars and practitioners alike have expressed concerns at the low naturalization rates in the U.S. However, while the national naturalization rate is relatively low, there exists significant variation across the country. In some cities, only 30% of eligible immigrants have become citizens. In other cities, over 70% have naturalized. Extending arguments that are typically made about national governments to the local level, I argue that the policies and programs that city governments have adopted to promote naturalization help explain this variation. I measure city programs with an original dataset created from a survey of 102 city bureaucrats who manage city programs that promote and support the naturalization process for immigrants. I find that cities that provide robust supports to immigrants on their path to citizenship have higher naturalization rates, all else equal, than those that provide more limited supports. These findings show that cities are helping to create citizens, and this helps explain the variation in the naturalization rates across the country. These findings deepen our understanding of the factors that influence immigrant naturalization, and raise broader questions about immigrant integration, and the role of cities are playing in this.

The Impacts of the Excluded Workers Fund on New York City Undocumented Parents
Robert Courtney Smith, Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, Baruch College, and Sociology, Grad Center, CUNY; Andres Besserer Rayas, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Our project studies the impacts of the New York State (NYS) Excluded Workers Fund (EWF) and New York City (NYC) Cash Payments Program (CPP) on undocumented parents and their mostly (91% in Smith’s prior NYS study) US citizen children’s food security, health, and wellbeing. We gain leverage to analyze how the EWF and CPP poverty reduction policies affect food security, health, and child well-being by: 1) the exclusion from the Pandemic Relief Acts (e.g. the CARES Act) of undocumented and many “undocumented adjacent” USC adults and children, creating populations who differ only on legal status or links to undocumented parents; 2) by the limited funding of the CPP and EWF, creating populations of otherwise like, eligible, undocumented families who got/did not get these payments; and 3) comparing impacts of COVID for families where no one got sick or had only mild symptoms, with families where someone has serious long haul symptoms, was hospitalized, or died from COVID. Prior research and strong ethnographic relationships with “El Centro” (pseudonym; an immigrant led nonprofit serving mostly undocumented immigrants and their families) enabled us to reach highly COVID-impacted undocumented, Latinx, immigrant families in NYC COVID epicenters who confront risk to food, health, and wellbeing (and are not reached, especially not via internet or phone surveys). El Centro members lived in COVID epicenters (1 COVID death/243 people v 1/1804 Upper East Side in May 2020). Most research on the Pandemic Relief Acts (PRActs) will study how the pandemic disproportionately affects Black and Brown families, but not analyze how lacking legal status or living with a parent who lacks status also harms children’s food security, health, and wellbeing. The 2.1 billion dollar Excluded Workers Fund (EWF) was created (7-21) by New York State to support undocumented families excluded from the PRActs and offered onetime payments of $3200 to $15,600 (funds ran out 10-21). NYS’s EWF is bigger than CA’s $125 million fund (or others in WA, CO, or DC). CPP was an emergency program funded by NYC and foundations, giving $1000 to immigrant families ineligible for PRActs, during the pre-vaccine, economic free-fall, mid-2020 pandemic phase. We posit CPP/EWF payments helped bolster income, prevent homelessness, and prevent cascading harms to children’s wellbeing. Our research design compares these outcomes for people who were eligible and got/did not get EWF and CPP payments over a planned multi-year study. We will also be able to compare impacts for those who did not get COVID, who got it but recovered fully, and those who have long-haul symptoms. We will report results since 2020 at APSA. Smith and Besserer analyzed El Centro’s 6000-member survey in the pre-vaccine pandemic phase (done 4-20 to 8-20), showing worst phase impacts. We are re-contacting respondents in the 6000-person survey to track changes over time in income (which fell from $503/week to $146/week by July 2020) and savings (fell to $0 in 7-20), perceived risk of homelessness (75% 7-20), reported recovery from COVID (38% reported COVID symptoms 2020. We are doing surveys, interviews, focus groups, and ethnography.