By Andrew Soboeiro
The American Dream is heavily tied up with the immigrant experience. We imagine foreign nationals coming to the United States and building a new life for themselves and their children. In many cases, immigrants are themselves children, whose parents want them to have better education and career opportunities than they had in their country of origin.
It is true that child immigrants and the children of immigrants enjoy high rates of upward mobility. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for them to get a quality education or embark on a successful career. A recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation explores the unique socioeconomic barriers faced by children in immigrant families, both in North Carolina and across the country.
North Carolina’s Children in Immigrant Families
According to the report, there are 414,000 children in immigrant families living in North Carolina, out of nearly 18 million in the country as a whole. Of these young North Carolinians, 60 percent identify as Latino, 14 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander, 14 percent are non-Hispanic whites, 8 percent are black, and 3 percent identify with two or more races. Compared to the entire country, a relatively high percentage of such children in North Carolina are Latino and a low percentage are Asian, white, or multiracial.
First & Second Generation Barriers
Children who are immigrants or whose parents are immigrants face a number of distinct challenges in the North Carolinian school system, including:
- Language Barriers: Schools often struggle to provide effective instruction to students who are not fluent in English. Even when they have ESL teachers on staff, those teachers may not be equipped to serve the sheer number of children from immigrant families. ESL teachers also aren’t always prepared to serve children whose first language is not Spanish.
- Limited Incomes: The median immigrant family has an income that is 20 percent lower than that of the median family where all members are born in the US. This means that immigrant families cannot invest as much in their children’s education. It also means that such families must move frequently in search of work, disrupting children’s educations by forcing them to change schools.
- Health Issues: Immigrant families are less likely to have health insurance, making it more difficult for them to obtain the preventative care necessary to keep their children healthy. As a result, children are sick more often, miss more days of school, and have more trouble focusing on their studies. This is a particularly serious problem in North Carolina given that the state has not expanded Medicaid.
- Immigration Issues: Many immigrant families have at least one member who is either undocumented or who holds temporary legal status that they could lose. Children in these families have to worry about seeing their parents or siblings deported, or even of being deported themselves. This creates a serious emotional burden, making it harder for those children to focus on their schoolwork. Counselors at North Carolinian schools are struggling to help those children cope with such fears.
As with many socioeconomic issues in this country, the burdens facing children of immigrant families fall disproportionately on certain racial and ethnic groups. In general, black and Latino children from immigrant families have lower family incomes and more trouble in school than Asian and white children. Nonetheless, all immigrants deal with these challenges to some degree. Among white eighth-graders from immigrant families, only 11 percent are proficient in math at grade level, compared to 42 percent of white eighth graders from US-born families. Likewise, only 19 percent of Asian American fourth-graders from immigrant families can read English at grade level, compared to 62 percent of those whose parents were born in the United States.