Author: salima

Immigrants mental health challenges and the support they need

Immigrants constitute about 15 percent of the U.S population, which amounts to more than 325 million people.  Immigrants often migrate to the United States from many diverse backgrounds, cultures, values, beliefs, and practices.¹ While the individual reasons for migrating may vary, all immigrants share the experience and stress that comes with the immigration process, which also has long-lasting effects on mental health.¹ Not only does the immigration process include departure from the country of origin, a potential period of separation from family and familiar cultures, but also causes immigrants to be completely immersed in a new environment and forces them to navigate unfamiliar customs.¹ This experience can lead to a decline in an immigrant’s mental health status, along with bouts of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other serious mental illnesses.¹

Another similarity between immigrants during the migration process is the acculturation gap that may grow between parents and their children. ¹ Frequently, children adapt to the new culture much quicker than parents due to them being more frequently exposed to modern norms of the culture through movies, music, TV, and school. ¹This may cause a deep cultural division between parents and their children and lead to conflict in the house. ¹ For example, arguments about dating, friendships, marriage, gender roles, and career choices may ensue because of the differing understandings. ¹ For the immigrant child, it can be difficult to combine the more traditional side of their parents with the new culture’s expectations that they experience outside of their home. ¹ This also makes it difficult for immigrant children to seek help or advice because they may be surrounded by conflicting ideas, and their parents may not be aware enough of the new culture’s customs to help them. ¹

Many immigrants are living with the continuous fear of being deported and having their lives completely change again if they are discovered by the authorities to be living there undocumented. The combination of fear, stress, and trying to adapt to a long work schedule in order to support themselves and their family can cause many mental health difficulties for both parents and their children. The family’s unauthorized status is especially difficult for the children as it affects their emotional wellbeing, academic achievement, and developmental growth. ² Approximately 4.5 million U.S. citizen children live in a household where at least one member of the family has an unauthorized status. ² Studies found that children of unauthorized immigrants are more likely to report fear, sadness, anxiety, anger, abandonment and posttraumatic stress symptoms. ² There was a greater risk of developmental delay and school readiness, and children were not medically insured and were less likely to visit the doctor and be in good health. ² Even though the children may be eligible for services, the fear of revealing the family’s immigration status and possibility of deportation keeps the parents from applying for public assistance or seeking medical care for them. ² With all of the challenges that immigrants face that induce serious levels of stress, it is very important to have the right mental health support.

In order to help families in the process of immigrating, mental health services must understand the cultural differences and be more culturally sensitive. ¹ By understanding the severity and stress of the immigration process, as well as the fear of deportation, they can be better equipped to provide the best support. ¹ It is especially critical for the mental health providers to be aware of the immigrant’s background, understand the immigrant’s experience to be able to communicate with them in order to deliver the proper mental health support. ¹



  1. APA Presidential Taskforce on Immigration (2013). Working with immigrant origin clients: An update for mental health professionals.
  2. Brabeck, K. M., Lykes, M. B., & Hunter, C. (2014). The psychosocial impact of detention and deportation on U.S. migrant children and families. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(5), 496–505.


The Impacts of Family, Education, and Community on the Development of an Immigrant Child

When considering the growth and development of an immigrant child, the adage: “It takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind. The relationships that are most important in an immigrant child’s life can be broken down into the categories of family, school, and neighborhood – it is essential that these roles produce positive interactions and experiences in order for the child to be raised in a safe environment.

One of the biggest impacts on any child’s development is the influence of parental figures. However, in the immigration process, many immigrant families experience an extended duration of separation from family members.1 It is not uncommon for parents to leave their children in the care of extended family members during the migration process due to its taxing complications.1 Many of these children are infants and toddlers and have an especially difficult time dealing with the absence of their parents.1 While technology allows for video chat and texting, it is hard for everyone to remain connected. Parents slowly become strangers to the children and vice versa, making even the reunion of the family a tough transition, as the roles of parent and child need to be reestablished. 1 It is not uncommon for the family as a whole to experience bouts of low self-esteem and depression due to this separation. 1 While these psychological symptoms are not typically lasting, their presence alone is a cause for concern. 1 It would be more beneficial for all parties involved if this separation was not a part of the immigration process.

School is also a critical factor in the development of immigrant children because it acts as a major source for their acculturation process.2 Since the school reflects the culture of the receiving society, it introduces the culture to an immigrant student which then helps them adjust to the new environment.2 Schools that have significant and appropriate curricula increases school-wide engagement and intrinsic motivation in all of the students, but it is particularly important for immigrants because of their navigation between experiencing two cultures.2 Within the actual school day, it is beneficial for immigrant children in particular to establish working relationships with teachers as they become an additional resource for their adjustment process, helping them learn about the new country, language, and educational requirements.2 However, this is not always possible, and many immigrant families find themselves migrating to neighborhoods that are socioeconomically disadvantaged because of their financial status.3

Beyond the financial disadvantages of these poorer neighborhoods, in some cases, it is actually better for immigrant children because they often find themselves in a community of immigrants.3 This is due to social cohesion and the strong bonds that exist between the neighbors.3 Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that not all immigrant children have this experience. Additionally, not all bonds will have positive effects on immigrant children’s academic accomplishments.3 The child’s network often includes people who have limited levels of education, none- English speakers, or does not know how the U.S. education system works and can instead be detrimental to their academic success and development.3

Immigrant children often face acculturative difficulties as well as normal developmental issues.2 Challenges include learning a new language, values, beliefs, and behaviors of the receiving culture, and connecting their different worlds and relationship with their heritage.2 It is crucial for immigrant children to have a solid support system in the major aspects of their life, especially familial ties, education, and the general community, in order to ensure a healthy development process.



  1. Suárez-Orozco, C., Bang, H. J., & Kim, H. Y. (2011). I felt like my heart was staying behind: Psychological implications of family separations & reunifications for immigrant youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 26(2), 222–257.
  2. Motti-Stefanidi, F., & Masten, A. S. (2013). School success and school engagement of immigrant children and adolescents: A risk and resilience developmental perspective. European Psychologist, 18(2), 126–135.
  3. Leventhal, T., & Shuey, E. A. (2014). Neighborhood context and immigrant young children’s development. Developmental Psychology, 50(6), 1771–1787.


The effect of unauthorized status, acculturation process, and learning English on Immigrant children.

In the United States, ¼ of the immigrants are considered unauthorized ¹ which are people who live within a country without having the legal authorization to do so. Approximately 5.5 million children and adolescents are growing up with unauthorized parents, about a million are unauthorized themselves.¹ The child may be an American in spirit, school, and their everyday experience but in the eyes of the law, they are not legal citizens and their family status hinders the regular stages of their development.¹ In some religions, there are rituals that mark new stages of life such as baptism, quinceaneras, and bar mitzvahs.¹ These rituals are called rites of passage. In America, there are legal rites of passage that an unauthorized child may not partake in, like getting a driver’s license, passport, even going to college.¹ This may lead the child to question their identity and where they belong. Children of immigrants are also being put into a position of interminable liminality¹ (practicing rites of passages to belong but the corresponding country does not acknowledge it and consider them illegal and cannot belong) by the legal status of themselves and their family.¹ American Identity is the degree of which the person feel connected and engaged with America and its history and traditions.² The children believe that they are American because they share America’s values, beliefs, and speak the language, but still, are seen as illegal because they do not have the legal documentation.¹ These issues call into question what it really means to be an American – if speaking the language, sharing the same values and beliefs as my peers is not enough, then why is a piece of paper all that it takes to help shape a national identity?

Immigrant children did not make the choice to migrate to another country, as it was their parents’ decision and they should not have to struggle to define their identity simply because their family does not have the means of legally documenting their citizenship. ¹ Not only do the children grow up worried about their status but also the acculturation process. Acculturation is the changes that occur as a result of contact with people, and groups and who are culturally different.² Going through the acculturation process may lead to discrimination toward immigrants who are from lower socioeconomic status as well as against immigrants who are illegal and are viewed as a burden and a drain to the receiving country resources.² This discrimination may lead immigrants to have more problems adapting or resisting to adopt the practices, values, and beliefs of the receiving culture.²

Learning English is another complication for immigrant children and is an added stress on top of dealing with their legal status and the process of adjusting to a new country. Children of immigration reported that learning English was a harder obstacle than any of the other difficulties they faced during immigration.³ Immigrants are often criticized for not learning English quickly upon their arrival due to a lack of understanding and compassion, especially when considering how long it takes for a person to become proficient in a new language. ³ Despite the language barrier, studies show immigrant children, on the whole, perform surprisingly well in school compared to natives who come from the same socioeconomic status.⁴  This advantage of the immigrant children, who might unknowingly be considered educationally disadvantaged due to a shift in language and general unfamiliarity with the culture, is called the immigrant paradox.⁴ Though immigrant children may perform well in school they still face difficulties with their unauthorized status, acculturation process and being proficient in English.





  1. Suárez-Orozco, C., Yoshikawa, H., Teranishi, R. T., & Suárez-Orozco, M. M. (2011). Growing up in the shadows: The developmental implications of unauthorized status. Harvard Educational Review, 81(3), 438–472.
  2. Schwartz, S. J., Unger, J. B., Zamboanga, B. L., & Szapocznik, J. (2010). Rethinking the concept of acculturation: Implications for theory and research. American Psychologist, 65(4), 237–251.
  3. Suárez-Orozco, C., Suárez-Orozco, M. M., & Todorova, I. (2008). Learning a new land: Immigrant students in American society. Cambridge, MA, US: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press. (The Challenge of Language Acquisition)
  4. Greenman, E. (2013). Educational attitudes, school peer context, and the “immigrant paradox” in education. Social Science Research, 42(3), 698–714.


Immigration in America

I cannot even begin to express to you how important and critical it is for developmental psychologists and the public to understand immigration in America. America was built on immigration1. People migrate to America from around the world: Spanish, Dutch, French, English, Germans, Eastern Europeans, Africans, Indians, Asians, and the list continues1. The number of immigrants in America has grown enormously from being approximately 39.9 million in 20132 to becoming approximately 43.3 million in 20174. All these immigrants have different levels of skills, education, languages and yet they have been represented within politics and media in a negative way; a problem that needs to be solved2. Now, especially with the president, Donald Trump in office speaking very negatively about immigrants and changing people’s attitudes about them, it is very important for everyone to understand immigration. But before we begin to understand immigration we must define the different types of immigrants.  There are the immigrants who voluntarily left their home country to permanently reside in the new country. They move to a different county for many reasons: a better life, better jobs, better education, and marriage etc9. Refugees are those who were forced to leave their country due to wars or national disasters and the government agrees to let them and Asylum seekers are who voluntarily leave their home county due to fear or violence and they seek safety in a new country9. Every immigrant has his/her own unique experience in the new county and it is so important to look at their development and the changes that they go through.

As people, we are growing and changing every day and development psychology looks at how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors have changed over time8. Our development also happens with our individual personality and our interaction with our environment3.  Not only do we use Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory7 to understand how our environment influences out development but we have to use other factors (race, ethnicity, gender, and social class) 5 that also have an influence on our development. According to García-Coll et al., the environment plays a role in our development but not just the environment but also things like experiencing dissertations, dealing racisms, managing emotions, and personality5.  We also have to look at where did the person come from and what they look like. Those things play a big role when it comes to discrimination. For example, a white immigrant from a Europe country who speaks English experience is going to be very different from a person of color from a non-Europe country who speaks little English to no English5 . It is very important for research to start being more culturally bound to study specific people and their experiences.

As I mentioned above about Trump changing people’s attitude towards immigrants. There is a very interesting cycle happening here: Trump influence the parent’s attitudes toward immigrants and then the parents influence their children’s attitudes. There are a lot of ways that parents influence their children’s attitudes. Parents can just express their opinions very openly, they can consciously or unconsciously partake in discriminations towards immigrants6. According to Walter van Zalk & Kerr, 2014 research shows that adolescents that have a relationship with an immigrant are more like to show tolerance towards immigrants. By encouraging non- immigrants to make friends with immigrant, prejudice will decrease and tolerances will increase10. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Trump being in office saying very negative things about immigrants. I am not sure what our future looks like anymore.






  1. Abad, C. (2018). The United States Was And Continues To Be Built On The Backs Of Immigrants. Retrieved from
  2. (2013). Crossroads: The psychology of immigration in the new century. Journal Of Latina/O Psychology1(3), 133-148. doi: 10.1037/lat0000001
  3. Bronfenbrenner, U. (2000). Ecological systems theory. In A. E. Kazdin & A. E. Kazdin (Ed) (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Psychology, Vol. 3. (pp. 129–133). Washington, DC, US; New York, NY, US: American Psychological Association.
  4. CAP Immigration Team, & Nicholson, M. (2018). The Facts on Immigration Today: 2017 Edition – Center for American Progress. Retrieved from
  5. García Coll, C., Lamberty, G., Jenkins, R., McAdoo, H. P., Crnic, K., Wasik, B. H., & Garcia, H. V. (1996). An integrative model for the study of developmental competencies in minority children. Child Development, 67(5), 1891–1914.
  6. Gniewosz, B., & Noack, P. (2015). Parental influences on adolescents’ negative attitudes toward immigrants. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44(9), 1787-1802.
  7. HQ, P. (2013). What is Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory?. Retrieved from
  8. McLeod, S. (2017). Developmental Psychology | Simply Psychology. Retrieved from
  9. Schwartz, S. J., Unger, J. B., Zamboanga, B. L., & Szapocznik, J. (2010). Rethinking the concept of acculturation: Implications for theory and research. American Psychologist, 65(4), 237–251.
  10. Zalk, M. H. W., & Kerr, M. (2014). Developmental trajectories of prejudice and tolerance toward immigrants from early to late adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(10), 1658–1671.

Aya’s Biography

I am a Junior at Dickinson College and I am a psychology major with an Arabic minor. I was born and raised in Egypt until my family decided to move to America in 2009. Now we live in Chester, Pennsylvania. Because of the new addition to our family of my brother who is now seven years old and my sister who is now four years old, and my experience as a coordinator with the Salvation Army Kids Program, I found myself loving and wanting to work with children. I hope to one day work with children who are immigrants or have multiple cultures just like me. I have not yet decided on which way I would like to work with children but hopefully, I can figure it out soon. In my free time, I like to hang out with friends, have dance parties and watch movies. A lot of movies! Any kind but my favorite genres are comedy and romance.