As part of a Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month campus event, Public Health Associate Professor Mireya Vilar-Compte recently shared her research showing how undocumented immigrants were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
In her presentation of “The Long-Term Impact of COVID-19 on the Latinx Immigrant Community,” Vilar-Compte discussed how many social and economic factors and growing anti-immigrant rhetoric contributed to their distrust and hesitancy in seeking needed health care.
“The vast majority of undocumented people in our study population were essential workers who actually worked throughout the pandemic under very trying circumstances, and they live in areas that have high mortality and high morbidity of COVID,” she says.
Vilar-Compte studied more than 400 immigrants, half in New York City and half in Los Angeles, and through geocoding and geographic analysis found that COVID-19 and morbidity and mortality rates were higher in the Bronx and Brooklyn in New York, where many immigrants live, and in the meatpacking and warehouse districts in Los Angeles, where many immigrants work. While her research results were not necessarily surprising, Vilar-Compte says “the magnitude was a surprise.”
“These people contributed disproportionately to the economies of these cities, and yet there is no social justice for their burden,” she says.
There are also lessons to be learned from the research, including a significant “need for trusted and culturally sensitive health-care resources” to combat vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, Vilar-Compte says.
“People in the healthcare system can come with a biased lens,” Vilar-Compte is quoted as saying in a National Geographic article looking at the unique toll COVID-19 took on undocumented immigrants, which was republished by MSN. The professor stressed the need for more doctors, nurses and administrative staff from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds as one part of the solution.
However, there are many problems that require solving, as Vilar-Compte pointed out during her presentation. The professor says the long-term impacts include mental health care issues, such as depression for adults and children left parentless due to COVID deaths, exacerbation of chronic diseases and economic challenges, such as food insecurities, among immigrants – all of which are an “invisible story” not being told, she says.
While the more dire consequences of COVID-19 occurred in 2020 and 2021, the pandemic is not over and the long-term effects must be addressed, Vilar-Compte says. “I don’t have solutions for any of these problems but I do know that we need to work together with community organizations and local governments to address them,” she says, adding that she will continue her research and advocacy.
“This is a social justice issue. It is my crusade to ‘visible-ize’ them,” she says.
Associate Provost for Hispanic Initiatives and International Programs Katia Paz Goldfarb says it’s important to highlight not just the celebrations and contributions of Latinx during Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month at Montclair.
“This is extremely important because this is a segment of our population. The Mexican undocumented immigrants in this research are a very invisible group. People often do not want to talk about ‘them,’” she says, adding air quotes. “And yet, they are an intrinsic part of our society. They are part of the way that we live, the way that we would like to live, the services that we like to have. We cannot just use people without making sure that we offer the services and support they need.”
Several students with the Public Health Association at Montclair took time between classes to listen to the presentation.
“It was very informative,” says senior Patricia Bolivar. “The fact that immigrants and the working class are not supported is a social justice issue, which is a cause in our department.”
Genesis Jara, a junior, says the research also highlighted the need to improve access to vaccines for Hispanics.
“This information is relevant, not only with regard to the pandemic, but to inequities that we discuss and try to improve in Public Health,” says Christopher Haggar, a senior Public Health major.
In closing, Vilar-Compte told the audience: “If you encounter an undocumented immigrant, be really nice to them.”