Xenophobia, racism and discrimination are on the rise, especially as directed towards Latinos (Chavez, 2007) and Asians (Yip, Gee, & Takeuchi, 2008) in the U.S. and Muslims globally (Sirin & Fine, 2008). A recent study representing 35 countries highlights increasingly hostile, anti- immigrant sentiment among the largest receiving nations in the world (OECD, 2016). Relatedly, negative media coverage of immigration and increases in hate crimes against immigrants have been documented in the U.S. (Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, 2009). The attributions of negative feelings typically focus on lack of documentation, skin color, and language skills, as well as income and educational levels in the U.S. (Lopez, Morin, & Taylor, 2010). Immigrants who are racially distinct from the majority are at greater risk of experiencing discrimination than those who can “pass” as white (APA, 2012). This anti-immigrant, nationalist ethos may manifest in both overt and subtle forms such as openly targeting immigrant populations (especially visible minorities) with discriminatory laws and practices (Lopez, Morin, & Taylor, 2010), perpetuating negative stereotypes, and promoting hidden forms of discrimination (e.g., microaggressions). Importantly, these negative attitudes, practices, and policies persist despite compiled National Academy of Science evidence that in the U.S., immigrants are not an economic drain, are less likely to be engaged in criminal activity, and are integrating at the national level at similar rates as previous generations (Waters & Pineau, 2016).
Refugee resettlement programs have the potential to be welcoming or dysfunctional and dangerous, either alleviating or compounding the trauma, desperation, and instability that families faced on their journeys. In European countries like Greece, Italy, Sweden, and Germany, millions of refugees have applied for asylum though few are granted status (UNCHR, 2016). The minuscule numbers of refugees who are admitted to the U.S. go through years of “extreme vetting” (Shear & Cooper, 2017).
Refugee interventions can potentially counteract many risk factors that refugees face within the host country including post-migration violence, multiple changes of residence, poor financial support, limited access to basic resources, and discrimination (Fazel et al., 2012). If refugee resettlement programs fail to address these basic threats, the cumulative effects of trauma, acculturative stress, and other risk factors can limit resilience, foster adverse physical and mental health outcomes, and create additional long-term adversities for refugees (Dryden- Peterson, 2016). This is particularly critical for refugee children and youth who are experiencing multiplicative challenges during critical developmental stages. Although there is limited research on specific interventions needed to support optimal adaptation, refugee contexts of reception can be shaped by the programs, policies, and supports they are provided (see Dryden-Peterson, 2016; 2002.
Nations and local contexts of development vary in the ways they mobilize to receive newcomers. Some have long standing traditions of doing so while others are relatively new to “others.” Some are actively welcoming while others are actively rejecting. And some have policies that are receptive to particular groups but not to others. This will result in different sets of policies, opportunity structures, and social attitudes. Societies that value cultural diversity, adopt multicultural ideologies, and laws granting rights and support to immigrants facilitate immigrant family members’ sense of belonging tend to invest in and promote immigrant origin child and youth wellbeing (van de Vijver, 2017). Importantly, the efficacy of receiving nations’ policies (across for example the EU, the U.S., and Canada) for integrating immigrant and refugee families has direct implications for children’s and adolescents educational, and mental-health, and overall well-being (Malmusi, et al., 2017).
Over the last decades in the U.S., immigration policy has largely focused on security and border controls with little consideration given to nation-wide integration for new immigrants (Hanson, 2010). Since 1988, when the amnesty provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act ended, U.S. immigration policy restricted pathways out of the shadows for millions of unauthorized migrants (Motomura, 2008). What in the public imagination is an easily demarcated binary of “legal” versus “illegal” in fact embody an array of states of liminality masking a deeply broken U.S. immigration system (see Menjívar, 2006). The reality on the ground is that millions of families live with ambiguous documentation (e.g. applying for asylum which can be denied many years after initial application), with some family members falling out of legal status (e.g., overstaying a student visa). Furthermore, during the past decade, the U.S. has become a “deportation nation,” deporting 400,000 individuals a year (Kanstroom, 2010, p. 1). Long backlogs, high rates of denials, and growing numbers of deportations have cemented transnationally separated and mixed-status families with negative consequences both for psychological adjustment and developmental tasks (see for example, Brabeck & Xu, 2010; Dreby, 2012; Suárez-Orozco 2017).
As immigrant families enter host societies, political, economic, and social factors within the contexts of reception (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001) influence short-term adaptation as well as long-term developmental pathways (see Dryden-Peterson, 2016; Motti-Stefanidi, et al., 2012; Suárez-Orozco, Abo-Zena, & Marks, 2015). Broader economic opportunity structures shape the experience of immigrant family resettlement in a variety of ways including the types and stability of jobs that are available to adults and adolescents (see Suárez-Orozco & Suárez-Orozco, 2013).
An array of global, economic, geo-political, and social dynamics have direct implications for the difficult decisions behind (im)migration. These include the precipitous growth in economic inequality between wealthy and low-income communities (OECD, 2016) which create “push” (i.e., absence of jobs and opportunity) and “pull” (i.e., plentiful jobs and differential wage opportunities) propellants to large scale migration (Castles & Miller, 2009). War and conflict–long behind the source of displacement of peoples (e.g., in the U.S.: World War II, the Vietnamese War; in France, the Algerian War) continue to be so today (e.g., the Russian/Ukrainian war). Lastly, and not to be minimized, unchecked climate change and environmental disasters are pushing people out of their homes in unprecedented numbers (McLeman, 2014).(Global Report on Internal Displacement, 2016). Thus, these global forces create conditions for demographic shifts and migration.