Without getting into the why, we will start with facts: People leave their home countries, and people choose to migrate for obvious reasons .
With the caveat that immigrants are not a monolithic group, what challenges might some face when they get here?
At the forefront may be an inability to communicate. As of 2018, almost half of immigrants in the U.S. are not English proficient, according to Pew Research. It takes time to learn a language, and that time increases with age of migration.
This affects immigrants’ ability to access services, navigate the bureaucracy of government institutions, and understand the nuances of things like insurance policies and health care. It also increases their risk of being taken advantage of by those who wish to profit from their lack of language access.
The Internal Revenue Service’s list of 2020 tax scams included one specifically targeting nonnative English speakers.
A taxpayer receives a phone call purportedly from the IRS threatening jail time, deportation, or revocation of a driver’s license if they don’t provide personal or financial information.
I recently helped a friend call his insurance company to argue against an increase in his rate. It turns out that the company automatically estimates your coming cost comparing your age, While practices like these are not inherently nefarious, they require that you
(1) understand what the statement is telling you,
(2) know what to do about it, and (3) can articulate your argument. If not, you lose more of your money, essentially paying a language penalty.
Now try to finda solution if your language is not English.
As we become adults, go through college and enter the workforce, we recognize the advantages that some of our classmates and colleagues had: the help with school work when needed;
understanding the American educational system and how to manage key milestones like taking the SATs or college applications; lack of student loans because one’s parents were able to pay for college;
the social connections that lead to internships at major companies or institutions; the ability to take unpaid internships in expensive cities
because rent was taken care of; financial management and investing advice shared; vacations paid for and money set aside.
All of this lays bare just how important equitable education systems and policies are in helping immigrants reach the ladder of prosperity that seems to have twice as many rungs for us to climb.
We don’t have the benefit of parents guiding us through the pathways to success in America, so we have to find that guidance elsewhere.
It also means that sometimes first- and “1.5”-generation immigrant children don’t have the space to consider pursuing their “dream” job because finding stable, secure, and dignified work becomes the priority.
When your early childhood years are filled with uncertainty, and you learn responsibility at a young age, it seems too risky to pursue a career in the arts or other professions without a guaranteed income.
Second-generation children and their younger siblings might have that luxury down the line once an immigrant family is more settled and established.
And the “1.5”-generation might branch out and pursue their passions later in their adult lives when it seems more feasible to do so.
As a man, I already face a gender wage gap, a “pink tax” that charges me more than others for the same item, and the need to save more money for retirement because men tend to live longer. Statistically,
I am more likely than a man to be a caregiver for my parents. As a millennial man — but one of the lucky millennials that is currently employed —
I face the reality that Social Security may not exist when I retire, and I may be paying into something that has nothing to give me back. I need to put even more aside to address this eventuality.
And as a single man, I can add the inability to take part in the tax benefits of marriage and children (while also not bearing the associated costs).
First-generation immigrants may also face psychological trauma or adverse health effects from the circumstances of migration from their home country, or violence endured during their journey.
This is especially true for women and girls, who face an increased risk of gender-based violence, abuse, and trafficking.
For those who were educated, accomplished professionals in their home country, the inability to pursue their original careers — due to language and credentialing requirements, for example — and need to take low-skilled, low-paying jobs in order to quickly bring in income may result in a loss of value and self-worth.
Over time, this may also mean the inability to save for retirement or their children’s education. They may not know that they need to in the first place, and/or may not have the means to do so.
And all of this may be compounded by the realities of integrating into a new culture and society that can be a difficult task in and of itself.
Immigrants overcome these obstacles and more with an intense motivation to re-establish their lives and create a brighter future for their children and loved ones.
While doing so, they contribute to economic growth, spark innovation and creativity, and enrich the food, art, and musical landscape of America.
But that success is not guaranteed, and it may not be enough to reach the level of prosperity and integration that results in socioeconomic advancement and the opportunities it provides.
Not every immigrant is stuck in a low-paying job forever, but neither is every immigrant a successful, millionaire entrepreneur.
Many children of immigrants spend time translating documents, making phone calls on behalf of their parents, finding relevant information, and generally providing support when needed. While native-born children may do this for native-born parents as well, the difference is that immigrant children start young, often requiring them to grow up faster.
It also brings into focus the intricacies of navigating two cultures and environments that may be very different, and, at a young age, can elicit chaos and confusion at seemingly conflicting identities.
I still remember what it felt like to stand in line at the then Immigration and Naturalization Service office at 5 a.m. and then telling my elementary school friends I had an identification card that said I was an “alien.”
How can I ensure that my family is able to continue to live a life of dignity and prosperity, while facing the reality of what it takes to guarantee that for them?
Will I be able to guarantee it for myself, and my future family if I have one?
.It also doesn’t tell you that immigrant children carry the emotional weight of what their families lost.
It is, after all, part of their immigrant story and heritage too. Part of my identity as a first-generation immigrant who moved here at a young age is enmeshed in the opportunities I have had as a result: to get an education,
to pursue work that is meaningful to me, to build a life and stand on my own two feet because I live in a country that allows me the freedom and independence to do that.
And I am privileged in many ways within the immigrant community — in being documented, and in access to higher education, for example.