During the first quarter of 2018, 264,000 immigrants had already received permanent residence in the United States. However, obtaining legal residency does not mean that the challenges associated with immigration are over. Upon moving to the United States, many immigrants are still forced to face the challenges of poverty and discrimination(1). Recently, the Trump administration has proposed a new law that will decrease legal immigrants’ abilities to receive green cards if they have used social services in the past. Therefore, many low-income families who are hoping to receive a green card will be less likely to use these social services, therefore, among many other things, leading to increased poverty levels and worse health outcomes. If this law is to be passed, it will be developmentally very detrimental to immigrants in the United States.
In order to truly understand some of the impacts this law could have we can look at it through the lense of developmental psychology. According to classical theory of developmental psychology, this law may have several long-term impacts on the development of those who are affected. First, the political environment plays a significant role on the development of an individual. On a broad scale, the political environment trickles into and impacts the more direct aspects of a person’s life(2). For example, in the case of this proposed law, a family may choose to opt out of using necessary social services. Therefore, this could lead to greater amounts of stress and financial difficulties among these families. Second, classical theory has also indicated that racism, prejudice, and discrimination also play important roles in human development(3). In relation to political environment as previously discussed, this law is inherently discriminatory because it singles out a group of individuals with legal residence in the United States. Therefore, not only will discrimination occur on a more direct level, but it will happen on a much larger scale.
Although this law has not been passed yet, it’s proposal has already caused significant changes in the use of social services. In fact, 18 states indicated that they have seen at least a 20 percent drop in enrollment of social service programs since the proposal was announced.
In order to help this issue, we must also understand how we can help non-immigrant individuals form more positive attitudes towards immigrants. Some research has focused specifically on adolescence as a very formative time in an individual’s life when it comes to forming attitudes of immigrants. For example, one study found that friendships with immigrants during adolescence can be an important buffer of negative attitudes(4). Therefore, we should focus on improving the attitudes of adolescents for more long-term positive effects.
- The APA Presidential Task Force on Immigration. (2013). Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century. Journal of Latina/o Psychology, 1, 133-148. doi: 10.1037/lat0000001
- Bronfenbrenner, U. (2000). Ecological systems theory. In A. E. Kazdin & A. E. Kazdin, Encyclopedia of Psychology, Vol. 3. (pp. 129–133). Washington, DC, US; New York, NY, US: American Psychological Association.
- Coll, C. C., Lamberty, G., Jenkins, R., McAdoo, H. P., Crnic, K., Waski, B. H., & Garcia, H. V. (1996). An Integrative Model for the Study of Developmental Competencies in Minority Children. Child Development, 67, 1891-1914.
- Van Zalk, M. H. W., & Kerr, M. (2014). Developmental Trajectories of Prejudice and Tolerance Toward Immigrants from Early to Late Adolescence. J Youth Adolescence, 43, 1658-1671. doi: 10.1007/s10964-014-0164-1