Three Myths about Latino Immigrants That It’s Time to Bust

Photo by Monivette Cordeiro

As a counseling professor, I train my students to ask their clients: “If you succeed in making the changes we’re talking about, what will be better?” So I have to ask: Has the President thought through the consequences of his actions on immigration?

America was built on positives. We didn’t become great by preventing, arresting, and deporting. Why does the President want us to return to a past we never had? Is it even possible to build something great while focusing on tearing down or walling off?

I’ve conducted more than two decades of research on population studies, and here’s what I can tell you about Latino stereotypes: It’s time to get rid of them. The fact is, immigration is at the core of America’s greatness, and Latinos are very much a part of that greatness.

Here are some of the key facts from analyses of Census data that I’ve done with my colleague Jorge Garcia and from other sources:

First, Latinos do share our culture and do adapt.

The wall-builders say that “Latinos don’t share our culture and won’t adapt — they just aren’t like us.” But in the past, some Americans said the same thing about each wave of Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants.

Research shows that after three generations of being here, Latinos look remarkably similar to those previous immigrant groups. (Of course, most Latinos in the US aren’t immigrants but have been here for many generations – much longer than many other groups.)

Like Americans in general, Latinos are more likely to live in big cities and are more likely to be married. Like earlier generations of immigrants from Europe, they have a preference for coastal cities and their families are slightly bigger than average.

Latinos are on average younger. However, that’s a big benefit for a US population that would otherwise find it much more difficult to grow the economy and pay for programs like Social Security that are based on younger people funding older people.

Second, Latinos are not criminals.

Several studies have failed to show any relationship between immigrant presence and increased crime rates. In fact, a recent study showed that areas with the most immigrants have lower crime rates. It’s important to remember that to be here without documents is a civil violation not a crime; think of it as the equivalent of traffic tickets.

Third, Latinos are not taking your jobs.

The biggest difference between Latinos and the total US population is in their types of occupations. In both 2000 and 2010, the majority of Americans overall were employed in managerial and sales jobs. For Latinos, the majority were employed in either low-level white collar or blue collar occupations, both skilled and unskilled. So, are they taking our jobs? Not as long as these types of occupational differences persist. And yesterday’s Day Without Immigrants protest is a prime example of this fact.

When Latinos do what other immigrants did and become more educated, they’ll move up and start taking some of those white collar jobs. And that will be a very good thing for America, because we’re already looking at huge shortages of educated people as the baby boomers retire.

Are Latinos a drain on our society because they use social services? They do use services, but also contribute significantly to the tax base that pays for those services.

Other Americans, for example those in rust belt states with aging populations, use a lot more services than Latinos, and already are benefiting from younger people supporting the tax base.

Sadly, Latinos who are undocumented, provide an especially big boost to the economy – they pay the taxes but aren’t eligible for benefits. These aren’t the only myths about Latinos. Language acquisition? Same as previous immigrants. Educational attainment? If Latinos get to college they tend to major in similar disciplines as the rest of the country. Military service? Latinos have a long tradition of serving in the US military.

Even the causes of death are similar for the total US population as for Latinos – both die from the same top diseases: heart disease and cancer. Many Latinos, especially in border areas, have retained the ability to speak Spanish. But English is their primary language and American culture –from sports to movies – is the only one they know or care about.

Begging the question of whether it’s possible to build greatness by tearing things down, the obvious conclusion is that Latinos are more like other Americans than they are different. Let’s build relationships and not walls.

Should Social Workers Get on the Telemental Health Wagon?

Photo Credit: La Clínica del Pueblo

There was a huge smile awaiting me at the other end of the screen. I had been anticipating this moment with some degree of anxiety. I had been to trainings, conducted several dry runs, and attended scores of meetings to prepare for what was about to unfold. “This is weird,” she said. I validated her feelings and laughed along with her. There she was, my first telemental health client.

When I first interviewed for a mental health job and I discovered the position was for a telemental health therapist who will provide therapy through video, my first thought was: therapy through this mode couldn’t possibly work. So many questions came up: “how can you build solid rapport and trust through a camera”?  Is this HIPAA compliant? How could I deal with a client in crisis?

I went home and I was surprised by my strong reactions to the interview. I thought: why was I so certain that this could not work when I have not even tested it?

After some self-reflection and checking in on my assumptions, I discovered that my skepticism and fears emerged from the “not knowing stance.” I had heard about telemental health loosely, mainly through Facebook ads that bombard my account promoting e-therapy through texting and right before that interview I had done some research on using smart phone apps as complement to therapy, where I came across a few articles about telemental health but I had not given this topic too much thought until that interview.

I turned to research and discovered that telehealth, health services provided by a form of technology, has been around for at least 40 years, some say even longer. I learned that telemental health is not just text therapy as we have seen in some ads. It was not this “new shiny thing” I thought was emerging but there has been substantial research on the use of telehealth and telemental health effectiveness with some communities, particularly in rural areas.  I also discovered the answers for many of my initial questions—there are HIPPA secure platforms to provide telemental health services and the evidence shows that it is possible to build a therapeutic alliance through video.

After a year of providing telemental health services through a pilot program supported by CareFirst and led by La Clínica del Pueblo, a federally qualified community based health clinic that has been impacting the Latino and immigrant community in the Washington, DC metro area since 1983, I can say I’m truly glad that I looked deeper than my initial fears.

Our experience providing telemental health to some clients validates other research which shows client’s functioning improve to a comparable rate as in “traditional in person therapy.” We are able to reach many clients in distress who otherwise would not be served due to a current shortage of bilingual mental health providers, which results in long waiting for access.  I have also dealt with several crisis, which initially I thought would be impossible to do via video.

Currently, the Latino community experiences high rates of mental health disorders and face significant barriers in obtaining services due to stigma, lack of bilingual and multicultural mental health providers, lack of health insurance, among other obstacles. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the lack of access to mental health services is one of the most serious health problems in the Hispanic community.

As the Latino and immigrant community grow, agencies working with this population face challenges and opportunities to meet the demand of mental health services the community needs to thrive.

At La Clínica, we saw an opportunity to better serve our population and through a partner to partner model, we are expanding our services to clients who face a significant barrier in accessing services. Barriers exist because they either can’t get to us due to transportation challenges, which for many of our clients means taking several modes of public transportation and traveling from far distances or because finding a bilingual mental health provider has been difficult due to the shortage of them. Clients conveniently continue to attend their base organization for services and in a private therapy ready room receive services while I provide therapy from a counseling room at La Clínica’s DC based office.

The need to expand services and come up with alternative solutions to meet the demand is true for many of the communities social workers serve. As the primary providers of mental health services, social workers have a unique opportunity to leverage technology to respond to our community needs. To guide social workers in this endeavor, NASW and ASWB have already created standards for technology and social work practice. In addition, ASWB recently approved the Telemental Health Institute telemental health online training program. “And Star Telehealth and the Center for Credentialing Education will launch their training program in the near future.  I am currently a beta tester for the initial modules.

Our times are changing. Our client’s needs are changing. Our NASW calls us to become culturally competent, and becoming culturally competent with the use of technology is essential in today’s times.  Our communities are more connected than ever before and are turning to technology at records numbers.

Join the dialogue. My colleagues from La Clínica del Pueblo and I will present our findings and insights from our pilot program through our presentation TeleMental Health for Latinos: Expanding Access through Technology at two social work conferences: Sí Se Puede®: Social Workers United for Latino Advancement conference organized by the Latino Social Workers Organization and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at the New York University of Silver School of Social Work in New York, April 25-27 and later in Washington, DC at the National Association of Social Workers national conference in June 22-25.

We will address:

  • Demystifying Telehealth: Fears, Barriers, Limitations and How We Overcame Them Planning, Building Protocols, and Training
  • Program Preparation and Implementation: The Importance of Research,
  • Technical, Clinical, and Administrative Implications
  • Cultural Considerations for Implementation with the Latino Community
  • Ethical Considerations for Social Workers Using TeleHealth
  • Program Evaluation and Outcomes
  • The Future of TeleMental Health

Having recently attended the Mid Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center Annual Summit, where I was one of very few social workers providing direct services, I am reenergized to empower more of us to learn about telemental health, get trained, certified and practice, when appropriate and while considering cultural, ethical and clinical implications. And I hope that next year, there will be a lot more social workers at the telehealth table.

Obama launches his “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative


President Obama recently launched his initiative entitled, My Brothers Keeper, and it was created to address the under achievement  among young black and Hispanic males. POTUS is gathering businesses, foundations and community support for this commitment. This initiative has been set forth to increase employment opportunities and to encourage our young men of color to reach their highest potential before they  are subject to the criminal justice system.

As a young teen, The President mentions that he himself was headed down the wrong direction with getting high, under estimating himself and his uncontrolled anger from not having a father at home. Obama stated, The aim is to “start a different cycle. “If we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens, then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren.”

According to American Progress,

  • One in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime
  • Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated
  • Unemployment rate of African-Americans without a high school diploma was 26 percent in the second quarter of 2011, compared to 12 percent for whites without a high school diploma

And According to The National Council of LaRaza,

  • It can be estimated that on any given day, at least 18,000 Hispanic youth are incarcerated in the U.S. for mostly nonviolent offenses
  • The United States Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that from 2000 to 2008, the share of Latino youth under 18 years of age who are in adult prisons rose from 12% to 20 %

I must say that this is an awesome project, and I applaud POTUS for his efforts. President Obama is relatable because he has gone through real life experiences that we as young people and the world can connect with. I know that I can totally relate because I myself went through a tough period of time where I was not focused at all. I did not value my education or the opportunities afforded to me, and I made a few bad decisions. After self-realization and a great deal of support from my parents, I got back on track. Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to do that. Some individuals do not have the benefit of having a support system around them to depend on for encouragement or motivation.

As an African-American woman, I am fully aware of the racial disparities that continue to perpetuate within our society. Having African-American male figures in my life such as my dad, brothers, uncles and cousins I also recognize first hand how unfair the system can be. The decks are stacked against them even more when it comes to our prison systems, employment opportunities and the chances of furthering their education . I am grateful that our President acknowledges these issues and is addressing them. I am sure our communities are thankful as well. I hope countless support groups stem from this initiative because they are necessary. It is time to break these generational curses.


The Changing Electorate and What it Means for Immigration

by Jose Raul Gonzalez, BSW Student

Last Tuesday’s election losses for Republicans have been an embarrassment and their Mitt Romney “self-deportation” immigration solution.  Hispanic voters, the largest growing demographics, voted for President Obama in numbers above the 70 percent mark.  Many influential Republicans like former Florida governor Jeb Bush have advised his party to take a new stance on Latinos and immigration.

Even GOP House Speaker John Boehner has started to call for comprehensive immigration reform, something he has not advocated for in the past.  The extreme right has even delved into the political forum of immigration which was taboo for them since immigration reform was tantamount to amnesty.  Remember that the far right holds immigration reform, and entitlement programs with a condescending contempt not worthy of any elected official working for the people of the United States.  Now it seems that conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity is advocating for a “pathway to citizenship” for otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants.

Courtesy of Mother Jones

The tide is turning and political futures are at stake now.  Many are changing their rhetoric to a softer stance not wanting to be the ones on their way to political suicide if they continue to denigrate the growing Hispanic electorate.

President Obama racked up a presidential victory with a 71-27 percent edge over Romney among Latinos, but on Election Day, the state of Maryland became the first to approve a measure that allows some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition.

The pressure has been applied and now it is incumbent for the Republicans to change their past extremism to a more moderate stance and for the Democrats to finally deliver on this controversial issue.

It is interesting to see what exactly will take shape if any reform is indeed passed.  Will the “Dream Act” effort that was defeated in 2010 finally become a reality for many struggling youths whom by virtue and deeds are as American as any of us who are born citizens?  The people have spoken with their votes and they have defined what it means.  This country is changing and we as a nation must change to reflect the ever growing electorate and to preserve the greatness we all feel as Americans!


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