Children of immigrants are a rapidly growing part of the U.S. child population. Their health, development, educational attainment, and social and economic integration into the nation's life will play a defining role in the nation's future.
Nancy Landale, Kevin Thomas, and Jennifer Van Hook explore the challenges facing immigrant families as they adapt to the United States, as well as their many strengths, most notably high levels of marriage and family commitment. The authors examine differences by country of origin in the human capital, legal status, and social resources of immigrant families and describe their varied living arrangements, focusing on children of Mexican, Southeast Asian, and black Caribbean origin. Problems such as poverty and discrimination may be offset for children to some extent by living, as many do, in a two-parent family. But the strong parental bonds that initially protect them erode as immigrant families spend more time in the United States and are swept up in the same social forces that are increasing single parenthood among American families. The nation, say the authors, should pay special heed to how this aspect of immigrants' Americanization heightens the vulnerability of their children.
One risk factor for immigrant families is the migration itself, which sometimes separates parents from their children. Another is the mixed legal status of family members. Parents' unauthorized status can mire children in poverty and unstable living arrangements. Sometimes unauthorized parents are too fearful of deportation even to claim the public benefits for which their children qualify. A risk factor unique to refugees, such as Southeast Asian immigrants, is the death of family members from war or hardship in refugee camps.
The authors conclude by discussing how U.S. immigration policies shape family circumstances and suggest ways to alter policies to strengthen immigrant families. Reducing poverty, they say, is essential. The United States has no explicit immigrant integration policy or programs, so policy makers must direct more attention and resources toward immigrant settlement, especially ensuring that children have access to the social safety net.