By TIM BULLARD
MYRTLE BEACH — The first S.C. Hispanic Health Issues Conference, “Transcending Cultural Barriers,” was held at the Springmaid Beach Resort Jan. 28-29, featuring speakers and panel discussion of numerous issues.
Around 90 health care providers, social workers, outreach volunteers and agency representatives gathered to examine the S.C. Hispanic population, highlighting migrant workers and seasonal farm workers.
The Pee Dee Task Force on Migrant Advocacy was created by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Charleston in 1996 as a way to coordinate and promote services for migrants in 10 counties of the Pee Dee — Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Georgetown, Horry, Lee, Marion, Marlboro and Williamsburg.
The task force includes experts including educators, health providers, church-based outreach workers, helping agencies and state and federal agencies.
Charleston attorney Marvin Feingold of Migrant Legal Services in Charleston discussed “Immigration, Law Changes & Updates.” His agency serves 11 coastal counties.
“Today, as we know, most of the farm work in this state is done by alien workers,” said Feingold. The majority of workers are Mexican, however, there are a growing number of workers from Central America.
After 1996, permanent resident aliens were cut by the government from benefits like food stamps, Feingold said. “Those have been restored in part,” he added.
Feingold discussed the reality confronting couples who wed in South Carolina and have problems with immigration, visas and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
“In 1996 there was a lot of anti-alien sentiment coming out, apparently on the part of the Congress because they came up with these very draconian laws in which they said that if you remain in the United States for 12 months prior to April 1, 1998, you leave without papers, we are going to exclude you from coming into the United States for a period of 10 years.
“So even though you are married to an American citizen, if you leave the United States, we’re not going to let you back in,” he said. “We’ve now gone back to a situation that in order to get your visa, you have to go outside the United States. You can no longer adjust.”
Laws can vary according to the country the person hails from. “H2A” workers come into the country through INS with temporary work permits, and the workers have been a controversial source of employment on the Grand Strand.
Conference keynote speaker Oscar Gomez, executive director of Farm Worker Health Services, Inc. in Washington, D.C., talked about prejudice, language barriers and education.
“There are two assumptions that are made about Hispanics. The first assumption is that all Hispanics are foreign, or foreign-born,” he said. “Another assumption is that Hispanics and Latinos are just one group. There are a lot of different Hispanic groups — Colombia, Puerto Rico and Mexico. A lot of times Spanish is not their first language.”
By the year 2010, Hispanics will be the largest single minority group in the United States, Gomez said. “A lot of that growth will happen in non-traditional areas,” he added.
According to Gomez, diabetes is a rising health threat, with the number of cases doubling in the Hispanic population. “There is also a greater percentage of TB in the Hispanic population than the general population,” he said.
In 1994, there were 29.9 cases of HIV in every 100,000 people in the general population, and in the Hispanic population there were 50 per 100,000, 40 percent higher.
“Catholic Charities is very interested in supporting the health and well-being of all people in the state, including Hispanics,” said Diane Bullard, regional coordinator for the Pee Dee Office of Catholic Charities, who coordinates the Pee Dee Task Force on Migrant Advocacy. “So we are excited about the opportunity to connect people and services throughout the state. This is one way to especially target the unique needs of our migrant brothers and sisters.”
According to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Health’s Office of Minority Health, the S.C. population is made up of 31 percent minority members.
Event speakers included Jess Torres of the S.C. Department of Education, who discussed “Migrant Education/Head Start Programs in South Carolina;” Dr. Debora Parra-Medina of the University of South Carolina School of Public Health outlined “Cultural Aspects of the Hispanic Population;” Dr. Jennie McLaurin of Winston-Salem, N.C., talked on “Health Care Needs of Migrant Children;” Jacky Asburry of the S.C. Department of Education discussed “English As A Second Language;” Dr. Elaine Lacy of USC-Aiken’s History Department covered “Hispanics in South Carolina;” Dr. Ana Lopez-DeFede, USC Institute for Families in Society, “Migrant & Seasonal Workers: A Study of Their Characteristics & Medical Utilization Pattern;” David Hayden, Low Country AHEC — “Speaking Your Client’s Language;” Dr. Claudia Lacson, DHEC Migrant Health Program — “Migrant Outreach: Enhancing Service Delivery;” and Genova McFadden, MSW and Irma Ramos, DHEC Migrant Health, “Migrant Health Update.”
“We are a nation of immigrants,” said educator Lacy in her presentation.
She also addressed the question of why South Carolina is catching up with North Carolina and Georgia’s Hispanic populations.
“There are more jobs here. There are also relatively few INS agents in the state of South Carolina,” said Lacy. A reception at the gathering included ethnic food, door prizes and Venezuelan folklore dancers from Columbia.