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    Higher Education

    Immigrant origin youth are the fastest growing group of students in higher education today. A stunning 31% of all students in our colleges and universities are first or second generation youth—a 58 percent increase from 2000 to 2018. The majority (84%) of these students are citizens either by birth (68%) or through naturalization (16%).

    While higher education has been facing steep declines in enrollment over the last decade in all but the most competitive of colleges, immigrant origin students provide a demographic beacon of hope that has gone largely unrecognized. They are the only group growing enrollments in higher education and are projected to be the primary group driving growth of the U.S. labor market into 2035. They play a particularly important role in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) sector of the economy: approximately a quarter of all STEM workers in our country and well over a quarter of all physicians and surgeons practicing in the United States are immigrant origin.

    Immigrant-origin students are adding diversity to the mosaic that is higher education today: 85 percent of all Asian-American college students are immigrant origin as are 63 percent of Latine college students. Twenty-four percent of today’s Black college students are immigrant origin as are 10% of White students.


    But is higher education recognizing these students and serving them well? Are they harnessing their energies, creating spaces of belonging, and easing pathways for students who are often first-generation to college?

    Most colleges collapse immigrant origin students into broader ethnic groups failing to recognize the full migratory experience, including family separations, traumas and multilingualism, as well as being the first generation in a U.S. college.

    Further, while the majority are citizens, the undertow that our broken immigration system imposes on their journeys is especially harmful for the 1 in 50 college students who are high school graduates but have yet to find a pathway to documented status because of the failure of Congress to fix our broken immigration system. These are students have graduated from our high schools, were accepted to college, and are full members of the American family in all ways except on paper. The Obama era DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) protections offered them a temporary reprieve from deportation, the possibility to work and, in some states, tuition assistance. Currently, these students are in limbo as the courts have blocked new applications since 2017; this means that today most undocumented college students are fully undocumented.

    IIH DACA Timeline

    In many states, they pay prohibitive out-of-state tuition and are not eligible for any form of financial aid, making college a nearly insurmountable journey.

    Please see: Higher Education Immigration Portal

    Please see President’s Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration IMMIGRANT, INTERNATIONAL AND REFUGEE STUDENTS IN HIGHER ED: Did You Know?

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      Notably, within the popular imaginary immigrants and immigrant neighborhoods are typically represented as dangerous and violence prone; research, however, consistently bears out that “immigration exerts a protective effect on crime” (Vicino, Hanlo, & Short, 2011). As such, immigrant neighborhoods are not more likely to be violence prone than non-immigrant neighborhoods.

      Nonetheless, immigrant-origin children and youth often find themselves in less resourced neighborhoods. Residential segregation is particularly pervasive in the U.S. (García Coll et al., 1996), and is important for immigrant families as they navigate economic opportunity structures. Though immigrant families coming into highly valued jobs can settle into privileged neighborhoods, those working in less prestigious areas often settle into poorer neighborhoods with substandard living conditions and limited access to public resources including resourced schools (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001)

      While such environments may be particularly risky for immigrant-origin children and youth as it can expose them post-migratory traumatic experiences (including neighborhood violence and gangs) and heighted xenophobia as well as targeted immigration raids in the community (Chaudry, et al., 2010).

      On the other hand, neighborhood communities can also provide internal resources for immigrant-origin children and youth, providing social cohesion and a sense of belonging that supports positive adaptation (García Coll et al., 1996). The positive social relationships these neighborhoods provide may serve to buffer the negative impacts of discrimination and xenophobia (White, et al., 2017).

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        K-12 Schools

        Educational contexts are the first sustained point of contact with the new society for immigrant origin children and youth (and their families). While immigrant origin students typically enter schools eager to learn, they encounter a variety of educational settings with varying degrees of capacities to serve them. Schools vary widely in terms of economic resources, linguistic services, and student/teacher characteristics (Suárez-Orozco, Abo-Zena, & Marks, 2015). Many immigrant-origin children and youth attend schools that lack adequate resources, struggle with the quality of pedagogy, and that are located in communities with conditions that pose serious risks to students’ well-being and achievement potential (Suárez-Orozco, Abo-Zena, & Marks, 2015). Low socioeconomic status (SES) along with high ethnic composition of the school context can have a negative impact on students’ academic performance. A five year longitudinal study of 400 newcomers from Central America, China, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Mexico found that more than half of the students’ educational performance declined over time; the educational settings that received then was primary contributor to these patterns (Suárez-Orozco, et al, 2011).

        While highly segregated and low performing schools contribute negatively to poor performance trajectories, schools that support immigrant origin children and youth development and adaptation have the converse effect. Schools that are well-integrated can promote students’ feelings of safety, trust, and inter-ethnic group cohesion, and trust (Junoven, Kogachi, & Graham, 2017). Schools that serve immigrant origin students well also directly scaffold acculturative tasks around cultural competence, language acquisition, and identity development (see Motti-Stefanidi & Masten, 2017; Suárez-Orozco, et al, 2010).

        Historically, schools have served the role of socializing (im)migrant students to the new society; often this has been done by encouraging the rapid acquisition of the practices of the new land while shedding those of the old in search of “common ground” (Tyack, 2003) .Learning the ways of the new land should not be at the expense of disparaging those of the parental land, however. Optimally, classrooms should provide culturally responsive pedagogy that serves not only to bridge cultural distance but also engage its students offering a vision of themselves within the fabric of the host society (Goodwin, 2002).

        A primary challenge for schools attempting to serve immigrant students has been the general lack of attention to this population in teacher education (Goodwin 2017; Sattin-Bajaj, et al., 2023). In short, few schools of education (or districts) provide adequate training to their teachers and administrators taking a whole child perspective in addressing the needs of the immigrant origin students they serve.

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          Family plays a critical role in the lives of immigrant-origin children and youth (see for example, Garcia Coll & Marks, 2012; Suárez-Orozco, et al, 2010). Many immigrant-origin families share collectivistic values of familism and interdependence, common in their home countries. These values and practices, particularly common among Asian Pacific and Latino origin families, stand in stark contrast to the more individualistic U.S. cultural schemas (see for example, Tseng, 2004). Immigrant youth frequently contribute to family expenses at home and abroad, care for siblings and extended family members, translate for family members, and help navigate social institutions (see for example, Faulstich- Orellana, 2009).

          The cultural demands of family interdependence highlight lifelong financial and emotional support among family members, living close to or with parents, and consulting parents on important decisions (see for example, Tseng, 2004). Moreover, siblings and cousins in Latino immigrant-origin children and youth families spend more time together in shared activities than with their parents, other adult kin, or their European American peers (see for example, Updegraff, et al., 2005) which can serve as a tremendous (often under-recognized) resource.

          Though family members’ collective contributions often support adaptation and developmental tasks, (see for example, Cardoso & Thompson, 2010) immigrant-origin children and youth may also navigate discordant cultural values between home and school that can have important repercussions for development. Cross-cultural conflict in value systems has been well-documented with young children in primary schools (see for example, Greenfield & Quiroz, 2013) as well as in adolescence (see for example, Marks, Patton, & Coyne, 2011). In the U.S., intergenerational conflicts between the family and adolescents have been linked to higher rates of risk behaviors (see for example, Marks, Ejesi, & Garcia Coll, 2014).

          bigstock Ukrainian Refugee Family With 453123611Another specific challenge that many immigrant families undergo is the process of family separations and reunifications during migration and post-settlement. Immigrant parents must often make the difficult decision to leave children behind as they venture forth to establish themselves in a new land before sending for their children. For example, in a study of 400 newcomer U.S. children from five sending origins, more than three-quarters of the participants had been separated from one or both parents from 2-10 years; the longer the separation, the more complicated the reunification and the more likely children were to report negative wellbeing (see Suárez-Orozco, Bang, & Kim, 2011). Further, increasing numbers of unaccompanied children are migrating on their own, sometimes seeking their parents but most frequently fleeing catastrophic violence in their homeland (see Krogstad, Gonzalez-Barrera, & Lopez, 2014). Further, a growing number of youth experience forcible separation from their family members through detention and deportation (Dreby, 2012). While exact data is difficult to come by, it is estimated that approximately half a million children have experienced the deportation of a parent in between 2009 and 2013, the majority of whom are citizen children with clear negative developmental implications for wellbeing.