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Immigration and the Family

There is a wide choice of literature on the migration issues; however most of it concentrates on the origin, numbers, and economic success of the migrants. While there is plenty of information about migrants, their families and their histories remain unknown or insufficiently researched. Immigration and the Family: Research and Policy on U.S. Immigrants edited by Alan Booth, Ann C. Crouter, and Nancy Landale is probably the first book that examines the impact of migration on family relations and the development of children. The chapters in this book deal with problems fundamental for understanding the migrant experience and immigration policy.

This book documents the National Symposium on International Migration and Family Change, held at the Pennsylvania State University in 1995, the third one in a series of annual symposia on family issues. The book was published in 1997. It consists of four parts and fifteen chapters, includes many tables with statistical data, and quotes of famous people on the topic of family and immigrants. It also takes into consideration the policies that potentiate or block family links to the U.S. institutions.


In Preface, a reader can find an abstract of the book and acknowledgments. The subsequent first part runs under the title “Who Migrates, and how does It Affect Family Outcomes?” It consists of four chapters revealing the role of family ties that bind, discussing succession of immigrant generations, and the dynamics of family phenomena. Besides that, a reader learns what risks arise before the families of immigrants and factors that decrease chances for prosperity and well-being of these families. These chapters are written by Ruben G. Rumbaut, Leif Jensen, Yoshimi Chitose, and others. This first part provides statistics of migration and legal grounds for it. In 1994, the population of the USA included 22.6 million citizens who had arrived from different countries and even larger amount of their U.S.-born offsprings. For over a quarter of them, Mexico was the country of origin; others came from Latin America, Cuba, China, and other countries. The author affirms that immigration to the United States is largely a family affair. Newcomers tend to concentrate on the area where their friends or relative live, where it is easier to find a job and integrate into society.

Family can bring one success and harmony, but it can also be a source of problems and conflicts. In a strange environment, people go through different complex adaptation processes and, as a result, families often break up. All of them are diverse, and they represent unique cases; the class identity of migrants and their specialties are very different as well. Thus, one cannot generalize about their experience, and it impossible to predict the latter based on race, gender or country of origin. For a better analysis, the experience of immigrants can be divided into several types based simultaneously on many different factors. They combine social status, the legality of the entry, and presence or absence of family or friendship ties. People who moved into a country legally and professionals do not concentrate in one area; settling in areas, they consider the employment opportunities and better conditions of life. Illegal immigrants seek shelter together in a concentrated area.

The second part of the book describes the effect of migration experience on the development of children and young people. This part devotes 3 chapters tot the psychological aspect of such experience and factors that are the most important considering this issue. Sociologists surveyed 5,000 children of immigrants, students of the eighth-ninth grade at the age of 14-15 years. They presented 77 nationalities both born abroad and in the United States. The survey showed that the children of immigrants from Cuba resided in the United States for the longest period and constituted the majority of their community.

Children of immigrants cannot be observed in isolation; they are dependent on their family structure and behavior of their parents. It is proved that living in poor, cramped crowded areas, and frequent stressful situations has a negative impact on children’s development. Under such conditions, it is difficult for children to adjust to the new environment and develop adequately. In contrast, attention and cordial relationships with parents in pre-school and school period are the keys to harmonious relations with adults in the future.

The third part of the book is about changes that family structure and processes undergo across succeeding generations. Four chapters of this part reveal topics of immigration and sociocultural change in families of different origin, understanding family change across generations, problems of conceptualization, and research design. This part explains the concept of ‘bicultural families’ and its implications for the research on immigrant and ethnic families. It also discovers Asian immigrant variables and structural models of cross-cultural distress. Many people who have moved to the USA illegally live in incomplete families for a long time. Many of them divorce due to a long separation or complexity of new life. For example, among those who arrived from Mexico in 1980-90 the divorce rate was 7.1%, for those who came before – 8.7%, but for those who were born in the USA, it constituted 24.1%. Divorce rate increases not only over time but also with the improvement of education, especially in some groups. Among the immigrants of the first generation, divorce rate is very low as well as the amount of single-parent families. The authors have found that children of immigrants marry and live in couples more often than native American citizens. However, the U.S.-born people are more likely to stay unmarried or divorce than children of immigrants. At the same time, 80% of families where the head of the family was emigrant were complete families. The same rating among native-headed families was 70 %.

Finally, the fourth part of the book dwells on different policies that increase or decrease connections of families of immigrants to the governmental institutions. Consisting of three chapters, this part covers the problem of immigrant families and public policy, the macroeconomic context of immigration and welfare reform in the 1990s, and immigrant integration and pending legislation. Migration policy is the cause of great controversy. The government often ignores the complexity of the circumstances that have the immigrants to leave their home country. Many people believe that by allowing family members to move to the United States the government allows resettlement of many low-skilled people in the country, which adversely affects the economy and welfare of its residents. In the period after World War II, the migration policy was focused on family relationships rather than economic background of immigrants. Before that, mostly men came to the United States, but after the war, percentage of women became dominant. Although the government recognizes the family as the central issue of migrants, many governmental programs are reduced or canceled recently.

As Booth, Crouter, and Landale state, “Family unity has and continues to be the cornerstone of migration policy for the United States.” However, terms of migration depend on the historical relations between the USA and the immigrant’s country of origin. Frequently, origin determines destiny. Not all immigrants were and are legal; people use different schemes to cross the borders all over the world. Another important issue is money that immigrants send back home – “remittances” and in 1991, they amounted to 71 billion dollars. It is a significant sum for the economy of sending countries. The conclusion part titled “Immigration and the Family: An Overview” written by Nancy S. Landale sums up all discussed problems and issues.

Summing up the above-mentioned information, one can conclude the following. Based on a national symposium, this book includes the most significant information and statistics on migrants from different countries. It dwells on the experience of migration, explains a high divorce rate among immigrants, and negative effect of the migration on the self-actualization and development of children. They become more vulnerable and need proper care and support. Such a deep analyses allows policymakers to understand the issue better for further adjustments of migration policies.