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Lifting up our local Immigrant Communities



The Capital Region might be more of a melting pot than most recognize. While the naturalized citizens’ population predominately speaks English, the nationalities of Baton Rouge’s immigrant and non-citizens do not.


This month, OneRouge interviewed a series of experts on issues faced by ESL and immigrant communities to better understand the gaps and create momentum toward solutions.


From housing access, health literacy, and children living in poverty, OneRouge dived head first into the gaps that are preventing new community members from becoming naturalized and allowing them to lift themselves out of cyclical poverty.


With these conversations, it is important to connect the holistic nature of all the Drivers of Poverty. Each area addressed in these calls is never in a silo of how to be fixed. There is no “one size fits all” solution. This doesn’t make the solution impossible, but it does make it evident that no one organization or entity can address the intricacies of the problem. We must band together to create progress.


Housing Access

Call #124 centered around housing access presented by experts Dauda Sesay, Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants and Marcela Hernandez, Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants.


Without reliable and affordable housing, many immigrant families are having to cohabitate in numbers not conducive to a comfortable lifestyle. Marcela Hernandez points out,

I will start with probably one of the greatest issues that we have seen is that, that the increased demand for cheap housing led to poorly and overcrowded homes. We see houses with 8, 7, 9 people, 4 babies, 3 children, etc. So they're literally overcrowded homes which created issues in regards to personal hygiene, a spread of illnesses, and of course, large numbers of undetected COVID cases. Also many of our community members have complain about living in places that regularly lack basic amenities, such as running water ventilation air conditioning, however, because of their legal status, their rights are often time violated.

Recurring OneRouge guest and member of the OneRouge Leadership Council, Alfredo Cruz connects the information in the call to lift up an important point,

Families that essentially make below 50% of area media income, earning less than about $30,000 (the lower income for families), [there is] less availability of housing. And for those to make 30% or less of median income the supplies even less.

Understanding this, as a coalition, can we build a system built for the express benefit of addressing housing insecurity? With the holistic nature of this work, it would not just simply help immigrant populations, but naturalized individuals as well. Affordable housing is needed for this city to thrive, period.


Barrier of Poverty: Access towards Citizenship

Call #125 examined the difficulty in which becoming a citizen of the United States currently persists to be, as well as the unbending and outdated nature of documentation and citizenship processes continue. Our guest experts for this conversation were Homero López, ISLA Immigration, and Marina Biragova, Southern University Law Center Technology & Entrepreneurship Center.


For those already naturalized as citizens, the unveiling of the citizenship process can be extremely eye-opening. To understand the depth in which this process is broken to the extreme to benefit no one, we must understand to what degree and why.


Homero López explains how even the starting line is designed to not even be crossable,

In immigration court, you're not entitled to an attorney. You have the right to an attorney, but if you cannot afford one, one will NOT be provided for you. And when we're talking about people who are coming from other countries, oftentimes not knowing the English language, and do not necessarily knowing the judicial process in the United States. [Compounded by the fact that] wen they're incarcerated in rural, isolated areas far from their families and far from any kind of legal support.

Maria Birgova adds,

And I can hardly mention our minors going out and representing themselves in immigration courts.

Shocking information for those who are natural citizens, knowing they have rights and safeguards for things that even immigrant minors are not allowed. So why is it like this?


López explains one reason for this approach,

The system is set up in a way where immigration is federal, so the states actually receive money from the federal government in order to detain and arrest people and the counties, and there's a federal, there's a bed minimum, which means when people are coming in, even if it's at a time when the place is at a lower amount of people than what the minimum is, which is like 60%. The detention center will be still be paid for at least 60%. So even if they're not at capacity, even if they're not detaining as many people, they're still getting paid that amount by the federal government.

With knowledge that the immigration pipeline is more connected to the prison pipeline than anything else, we begin to lift the veil that shrouds the systemic root. If families are constantly being torn apart, with little to no recourse, it becomes impossible to not only afford to survive, but implicitly unattainable to thrive at all.


Barrier of Poverty: Health Literacy

Call #126 focused on the ability to access and address personal health. Regardless of status, being in America shouldn’t be a death sentence. And yet there is a large dearth of not just access to healthcare, but actually understanding it. Guest experts, Dr. Daphne Ferdinand, Healthy Heart Community Prevention Project, Mariana Montero, Golden Change Inc., Katie Jennings, Absolute Care, allowed for insight that people with low literacy or English proficiency have when it comes to health services.


It is easy to understand that when sick, it is important to receive the help that you need. One major gap, though, is that help comes in one form, a form usually inaccessible to those it was not designed for. There is help though, but it is limited and not nearly enough to address everyone who needs it.


Dr. Ferdinand explains,

It's not just about being able to read, although I have come in contact with patients who cannot read a word of English at all whatsoever, and you wouldn't know just by talking to them. It's also about being able to write the language and be able to understand and receive as well as to interpret. To [be] informed to make those decisions and take command empowered over your health.” She continues, “And to the extent that you are lacking in those skills, then we are going to have a wealth of problems here. People may not be compliant with their instructions from their provider because they don't understand and they may not have been communicated properly with regards to the information about their healthcare. And that can be misinterpreted that this person just doesn't care about themselves.

What do the solutions look like for issues like these? The most hands-off solution is to translate the materials and hope it makes sense to the patient. Yet, that lacks the cultural competency that is critical for having someone truly understand. Patient Advocacy becomes extremely important here, where someone (unrelated to the patient, yet keen enough to advocate for them) not only acts as translational support but can navigate the cultural differences that may affect health outcomes.


Each of these topics requires nuance, human respect, and most importantly an active solution. Understanding the issues is the first step, but we have had immigrants in this country since its birth, so we need to start addressing the issues.


Join OneRouge Friday calls by clicking here to be added. Join any of our current coalitions, CAFE (Capital Area Food Equity), Education and Workforce, and Transportation and Mobility, today.


Stay on our Newsletter for updates on when our next wave of coalitions is started, including the coalition around Cultural Barriers.


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