Home Visiting Programs and their Vital Role for Immigrant Families

By Cinthia Diaz

With a presidential administration that has kept immigrant families living in a constant state of fear due to one of the most aggressive agendas on immigration in modern times, and a virus that’s disproportionately affecting communities of color, home visitors can play a more vital role in immigrant families’ lives than ever before.

Home visiting is especially important for vulnerable families during COVID-19, when they are more isolated and anxious than ever. In addition to pandemic-related stress, immigrant families face other challenges and trauma. Unlike U.S.-born families, many immigrant families who lost their job or had their hours reduced do not qualify for most forms of federal aid, such as unemployment or recovery rebates, to help make up for the lost income. They also don’t qualify for federal public benefit programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), regular Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

While U.S citizen children in immigrant families can receive federal benefits if they meet the eligibility requirements, many families are afraid to access these, or any other type of service, due to the Public Charge rule that went into effect on February 24. This rule expanded the criteria that the government can consider when determining whether a person is likely to become primarily dependent on government assistance, making it more difficult for some immigrants to obtain lawful permanent residence if they access certain public benefits like food stamps and housing vouchers.

For immigrant families with members who were able to keep their job, many of them hold low-wage jobs considered essential, which don’t always offer employee-sponsored health care or adequate paid sick leave. With an increased risk of exposure, lack of health insurance, and fear of accessing health care services, there are concerns that some immigrants might not seek testing or wait too long to receive care.

Home visiting programs are designed to provide support to vulnerable families considered at risk, but a brief released by The Migration Policy Institute in 2019 presented data that revealed that immigrant families are being underserved. During our current moment, when families are facing additional stress and fear of accessing services, home visiting efforts need specific strategies to reach these families.

For Welcome Baby, an LA-based home visiting program, one such strategy was to disseminate the message that home visiting was excluded from the new Public Charge rule, as soon as it was cleared by the Supreme Court. We need to see more efforts like this and do more to support and help inform this community.

Children in immigrant families are disproportionately likely to face adverse risk factors that can affect their wellbeing and long-term outcome, including lower parental levels of formal education and English proficiency.

Data is for children in the U.S ages 0-5. Source: MPI's Leveraging the Potential of Home Visiting Programs to Serve Immigrant and Dual Language Learner Families, 2019

If we don’t seek additional protection for immigrant families and increase our efforts to serve them during this challenging time, these children may be at even greater risk.

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