E.g., 10/03/2023
E.g., 10/03/2023
Changing the Playbook: Immigrants and the COVID-19 Response in Two U.S. Communities

The pandemic has touched every corner of U.S. society, but immigrants have experienced some of its most acute effects, with relatively high rates of infection, severe disease, death, and economic dislocation. And while many immigrants work in essential jobs that have exposed them to the virus, some have been excluded from key federal assistance programs. State and local governments alongside civil society have stepped in to fill some of the gaps, and these efforts have been as diverse as the communities they aim to support.

This report examines the contrasting COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts in immigrant communities located in two very different but highly diverse parts of the country: Worthington, Minnesota, a small agricultural processing city that had one of the highest infection rates in the United States in Spring 2020, and Harris County, Texas, home to Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city and an area hit hard by both the public-health and economic effects of the pandemic.

Drawing on interviews with representatives of local government, health-care providers, social service agencies, community-based organizations, immigrant communities, and philanthropy, this report highlights commonalities and unique elements in these localities’ responses. It also identifies useful lessons for the inclusion of immigrants in future disaster response and recovery efforts in communities across the country. Among the topics it explores are the development and leveraging of partnerships, outreach and communication strategies, and methods for targeting assistance to households that need it most.

Table of Contents 

1  Introduction

2  Impact of the Pandemic on Immigrant Workers and Families
A. Health and Access to Care
B. Immigrant Workers: “Essential” Jobs and Unemployment
C. Immigrants’ Access to Federal, State, and Local Assistance

3  Case Study of the Response in an Early Epicenter: Worthington, Minnesota
A. COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination at the JBS Processing Plant
B. Outreach for Testing and Vaccination by Trusted Intermediaries
C. Distribution of Cash and Food Assistance through Local Nonprofits and Immigrant Community Networks
D. Building a Crisis Response by Strengthening Bonds among Immigrants and Connections to Broader Community Institutions

4  Case Study of the Response in a Disaster-Tested Community: Harris County, Texas
A. Geographic Targeting of Resources for Testing and Vaccination Campaigns
B. Expanding Vaccinations to Vulnerable, Underserved Communities
C. Providing Direct Assistance to Households, with and without Immigration-Status Restrictions
D. Disbursing Rental Assistance without Immigration-Status Restrictions
E. Adapting the Hurricane Response Model to the Pandemic and Ensuring a Focus on Immigrant Communities

5  Lessons Learned for Responses to Future Emergencies