Immigration — Researchers found fear of deportation was not a factor in immigrant farm workers use of medical or dental care facilties

Migrant workers are more likely to receive medical care from community health centers in partnership with faith-based organizations, according to a new study by Oregon researchers, because fear of deportation is lower than they might face at other medical facilities.

The study’s lead author is Daniel López-Cevallos, associate director of research at Oregon State University’s Center for Latino Studies and Engagement. It was recently published online in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health. López-Cevallos said his research points to the importance of health services being administered to migrant farm workers by trusted institutions.

“It has been assumed in most of the literature that fear of deportation is associated with use of health services, across the board,” said López-Cevallos, who is an expert on migrant farmworker health and has worked in public health projects with low-income communities in Ecuador and Latino immigrants in Oregon. “There is a strong belief by many workers that they don’t want to touch the system because it might hurt their chances of someday becoming documented or jeopardize their children’s well-being.”

However, that fear wasn’t a factor with Oregon migrant workers in this study. The researchers interviewed 179 Mexican-origin indigenous and mestizo farm workers who attended a community health center in the northern Willamette Valley. While the vast majority of workers — 87 percent — said they were afraid of deportation, this fear was not tied to their use of medical or dental care.

The researchers found two important factors influencing use of medical services: these workers were being served by a trusted community health organization that has served the area for decades, and those who attended a local church were more likely to use dental care.

“Some churches provide support to migrant farm workers, which may include connecting them with needed dental care,” he said. “So we see that when services are offered by trusted institutions, such as a community health center or a faith-based organization, it can make all the difference.”

Despite the relative confidence migrant workers expressed about community health centers and churches, only 37 percent of the farm workers surveyed had used medical care in the previous year, a number similar to national statistics on migrant workers.

López-Cevallos said he believes many workers fear losing their jobs if they take time to see a doctor, and most don’t have health insurance.

“Migrant and seasonal farmworkers are an integral part of our food system, creating (more than) $3 billion in economic activity annually, just in Oregon,” López-Cevallos said. “We get the benefit of their labor through our inexpensive food. It is in our best interest as a society to make sure that they, and their children, are healthy and cared for.”

Junghee Lee and William Donlan, of Portland State University, co-authored the study, which was funded by a grant from the Oregon Community Foundation.

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