Immigration Studies : Youth Adapts to Change - 27 septembre 2010

fr - I. Introduction


In the first decade of the new millennium a new cycle of public concern about the benefits and harms of immigration has erupted. In mid-2006, exactly twenty years after the last major U.S. immigration overhaul (the United States Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 #1), the quiescent public discourse regarding immigration began rumbling and eventually erupted into a full-throated national debate. Suddenly, immigration talk saturated the airwaves : popular television and radio commentators hyperventilated about broken borders and the illegal-alien invasion. At about the same time, by the end of May 2006, millions of people–especially undocumented immigrants and significant numbers of children of immigrants–had taken to the streets of major American cities, clamoring for the right to stay in the United States.
The harsh spotlight on border controls has blinded us to the broader picture, however. To a large extent, we have failed to consider how immigration is transforming our society : immigrant-origin children are the largest growing segment of the U.S. child population, now constituting twenty percent of our nation’s children and projected by year 2040 to make up a third of our children. #2 Nevertheless, the United States has virtually no policy at all to smooth the transition of immigrant families to their new society. We need to develop an ambitious, workable, and humane approach to immigration that considers the integration of youth and that addresses the realities of the twenty-first century.
Young immigrants today are extraordinarily diverse and their experiences defy facile generalizations.3 They arrive from multiple points of origin and add new threads of cultural, linguistic, religious, and racial difference to the American tapestry. Some are the children of educated professional parents while others have parents who are illiterate. Some have received excellent schooling while others arrive from educational systems that are in shambles. Some are escaping political, religious, or ethnic persecution ; others are motivated by the promise of better jobs and the hope for better educational opportunities. Some are documented migrants while others, estimated at 1.8 million, are unauthorized young migrants. #4Some settle in well-established communities with dense social supports that ease the transition of youth into the new educational system. Others move from one migrant setting to another, forcing students
to change schools frequently. The social and educational outcomes of immigrant youth will thus vary substantially depending upon their settlement context and the specific constellation of resources available to them.#5
Immigrant youth’s level of academic success dramatically affects their future wellbeing. The global economy is largely unforgiving to those who do not achieve post-secondary education and beyond ; as a result, schooling processes and outcomes shape socio-economic mobility. The average annual earnings of those without a high school diploma are only $19,169. The average college graduate earns $51,554 with a bachelor’s degree, and $78,093 with an advanced
Immigrants defy easy educational generalizations. Recent studies suggest that, while some immigrant youth are successfully navigating the American educational system, large numbers struggle academically. Those who struggle then often leave schools without acquiring the tools that will enable them to function in the highly competitive labor market and ever more complex society.#7
The Longitudinal Immigrant Student Adaptation (LISA) study we co-directed at Harvard (1997-2003) assessed over time the academic performance and engagement of recently arrived immigrant youth from Asia (born in China), the Caribbean (born in the Dominican Republic and in Haiti) and Latin America (born in Mexico and in various Central American countries).#8 Strikingly, over time the achievement (including grade point average (GPA)) of students
coming from Mexico, Central America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic all declined in a statistically significant manner. A similar trend emerged for the Chinese-origin students, although the decline did not reach statistical significance. Specifically, immigrant girls consistently have statistically significant higher GPAs than boys throughout the five-year period, and the GPAs of immigrant boys declined significantly more than that of girls for all groups. For

both girls and boys, their grades in the first two years are considerably higher than their grades in the last three years, peaking in the second year and declining steadily from the third year on.#9

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