Difficulties of an Immigrant


The allure of a better life filled with more opportunity, happiness, and freedom is what drives people to migrate to different countries (Embrace). Oftentimes their countries of origin are impoverished, embroiled in conflict, or crime-ridden, and continuing to live there could even mean death (Embrace). About 1 million people immigrate to the United States each year (Jacobson). Differences in cultural practices and identities pose difficulties as they force the immigrants to choose between the preservation of their distinct cultural traits or assimilate into the dominant culture of the new country. Migratory status also plays a major role in the in encouraging or hindering an immigrant’s upward mobility. Due to the cultural divide, and the importance of migratory status, many immigrants find that the life they envisioned in the new land does not actually resemble the reality.

Fear of Deportation and Exclusion

In 2015 there were approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States (Krogstad and López). Undocumented people have to live in constant fear, as any potential run-in with authorities can result in their deportation. The Secure Communities Act, enacted in 2008 and ended in 2015, eroded the relationships between the police and immigrants (Associated Press). Under the Secure Communities Act, local law enforcement sent fingerprints to the FBI, which were then checked against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) databases (Human Rights Watch). ICE then identified someone as deportable and asked the police to detain that person, which commenced the deportation proceedings (Human Rights Watch).

The story of Miguel, an immigrant living Nashville, showcases why the act deteriorated relationships. He wound up in deportation proceedings soon after calling the police on an aggressive and hostile family member (Human Rights Watch). This is exactly why undocumented people are afraid to call the police as there is a chance that they or someone in their family will be deported. A study conducted in 2008 compared how African-Americans and Latinos responded to crime (Braunschweiger). The study found that only 4% of African-Americans knew of a crime that had not been reported, compared to 42% of the Latinos in the survey (Braunschweiger). In addition, 27% of the African-Americans said that they would not call the police to report a crime, and 54% of Latinos responded the same (Braunschweiger) Because the perpetrators are able to remain on the streets without consequence, crime rates are able to remain high in certain communities. Due to the close cooperation between local authorities and ICE, Latinos are left vulnerable to crime and other emergencies as they fear those who are there to protect them.

For many years, the fear of deportation prevented many families from attempting to enroll their children in school. The 1985 Supreme Court case Plyler vs Doe ensured that every child, regardless of citizenship, had the right to an education (Emma). Despite this, some children are turned away or discouraged from enrolling through complicated paperwork, inconsistent residency requirements, and the lack of translation/interpretation for families inquiring about the enrollment processes (Walker). For students who missed school in their home countries, they are often directed toward alternative education programs which are typically dedicated to children with behavioral problems (Walker). School districts fear that the student will age out, turn 21, before graduation, lowering the overall graduation rate. Other students can enrollment delayed by several weeks, until after the exam period, so that the school can report high test scores (Walker). Schools attempt to garner high graduation rates and high-test scores and will exclude the immigrants that they feel will drag them down.

Today, there are over 5 million children in the education system with at least one undocumented parent (Emma). While children are legally allowed to attend school, they are still plagued with the persistent fear of the deportation of themselves or their parents. This constant fear serves as a distraction and often results in worsened school performance. About 70% of schools in a survey of 730 U.S., reported academic decline and an increase in absenteeism in response to the recent immigration crackdown (Jones). Another study found that the deportation scares take a mental and physical toll on children and contributes to them finishing fewer years in school (Anderson). Child immigrants are being denied their right to an education by the intentional roadblocks designed to exclude them from the public education system. The struggles do not end there as when they do enroll and attend, they face the ever-persistent fear of deportation which diminishes their school performance.

Unjust Immigration Courts

When an undocumented person gets arrested, the ICE deportation officer determines whether or not to place the person in removal proceedings, and how to charge that person (Galvan). The deportation officer will serve them a notice to appear for a trial with an immigration judge (Galvan). In criminal courts, everyone regardless of their citizenship has the right to counsel as mandated by the Sixth Amendment (Cornell Law School). This right does not extend to the immigration courts as these represent civil cases, and consequently, many defendants are forced to represent themselves as they have neither the money nor the connections to obtain representation (Lee). Between 2007 and 2012, only 37% of all immigrants in court were able to secure legal representation (Lee). This is significant because those with legal representation were more likely to be released from detention, and avoid deportation, while only 2% of those without lawyers were able to avoid deportation (Lee).

Moreover, there is no age restriction on who can represent themselves in the immigration courts, resulting in thousands of juveniles as young as a few months old being called upon to defend themselves against deportation (Werlin and Macleod-Ball). For example, 3-year-old Arturo, who arrived because his family members feared for his life in El Salvador, will have to enter deportation proceedings on his own (Werlin and Macleod-Ball). A prominent immigration judge named Jack Weil has said, “[He has] taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it,” (Markon). It is completely asinine to believe that toddlers have the ability to fully understand immigration law and the gravity of their current situation. During this stage of life, children are just learning how to cooperate with others, speak simple sentences, and build things with blocks (Markon).  Between July 2014 until the end of the year, 42% of unaccompanied children in deportation proceedings had no attorney (Markon). The Sixth Amendment mandates the right to a fair and speedy trial, and while the children do receive a speedy trial, their trial is certainly not fair. The children do not stand a chance in court, and their constitutional rights are being violated legally.

Even with legal representation, an immigrant’s fate is almost left to chance, as the location in which their case is heard, and which judge heard it, have significant impacts on their chances of being granted asylum in the U.S. (Rosenberg). The national average for cases in which the immigrant is granted asylum is nearly 50%. Generally, Southern states are considerably more likely to deny asylum and order deportation of immigrants, with cities like Houston and Charlotte being labeled as “asylum free zones” due to their extreme rates of deportation (Rosenberg).  Immigrants are deported in 84% of the cases heard in Charlotte, which is three and a half times higher than New York City’s rate of 24% (Rosenberg).

One of the reasons for the massive disparity is that immigration judges adhere to precedents established by the circuit courts in which they are located (Rosenberg).  The courts located in the 4th circuit, which includes Charlotte, are disproportionately tougher than the other circuits (Rosenberg). The judge who rules over the case often has an impact, with men being more likely than women to order deportation (Rosenberg). According to a Reuters analysis, judges who were ICE prosecutors were 23% more likely to grant deportation (Rosenberg). These stark differences are still largely esoteric amongst immigrants as many have no idea that where they live can make all of the difference (Rosenberg). These massive differences in rulings render the immigration court system completely unfair and broken. For many of the immigrants escaping gang infested nations like Honduras, deportation is akin to a death sentence. Life or death situations should not be determined by an essential coin toss of who hears the case, and where it is heard.

Identity and Assimilation

The word “assimilation” is a loaded term that carries a negative correlation in most social contexts (Basu). It conjures thoughts about the death of cultures around the world. In reality, assimilation itself is not necessarily a bad thing and typically is a natural process that occurs over time (Shah). The process of assimilation can be broken down into three stages which include, acculturation, suppression of the parent culture, and the acquisition of the new ways (Shah). When naturally occurring, assimilation can be beneficial, with the potential to increase tolerance between the different groups of people and increase empathy between the groups through commonality (Shah). Rapid and forced assimilation, on the other hand, results in consequences for the individual and the society as a whole. The negative impacts of forced assimilation are exhibited through the Christianized Native Americans during the colonial period. Many Natives were forced to adopt the religion and the cultural practices of the English, and despite this, they were not completely inducted English society as they still were thought of as inferior (Lepore). They were not a part of the Anglo-world or the Native American world (Lepore), and it was as if they were stuck between two worlds, belonging to neither. Today, this phenomenon is commonly seen in the children of immigrants, with many facing parental criticisms at home, or bullying in school (Rieti).

Discrimination has long-lasting psychological effects on a person, and research has found that discrimination leads to increased stress, depression and anxiety (Wilson). At least 41% of immigrants have asserted that they have experienced discrimination, and 58% of Hispanics specifically deem race relations in the U.S. as generally poor (Krogstad and López). One of the immediate dilemmas for first-generation immigrants is whether to preserve cultural distinction or assimilate to the dominant culture of the new country. In many cases, assimilation appears as the only viable option as it acts as a defense mechanism against discrimination. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of the Hispanics felt that an emphasis on similarities rather than differences is the true solution to race relations and discrimination in the U.S. In order to place an emphasis on the similarities, the groups feel that it is necessary to reduce their difference by way of complete assimilation.


The promise of prosperity, happiness, and opportunity drive people to enter countries like the United States (Arizaga). Unfortunately, many of the immigrants find that their image of life in the new country is nothing more than a fantasy. For example, though first-generation Hispanic immigrants make up 9% of the U.S. population, they represent 17% of all people under the poverty line in the U.S. (Rector). Past legislation like the Secure Communities Act and the changing immigration rhetoric since President Trump’s election has diminished their quality of life. They live in constant fear as any run-in with authorities or any mistake can result in their deportation, resulting in a mountain of stress and the mistrust of the emergency services whose purpose should be to protect them. If caught, their life trajectory is entirely determined by random chance. Immigrants also face a disadvantage from their cultural identity, especially, in countries like the U.S. in which people can experience intense discrimination on the basis of their skin color or their culture. Despite these challenges, life here still represents a haven for some as continuing life in their home country can likely result in their death or deprivation.
















Works Cited

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Arizaga, Elizabeth. Why do immigrants come to United States of America?17 November 2006. 16 April 2018.

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Census Bureau. Close to Half of New Immigrants Report High English-Language Speaking Ability, Census Bureau Reports. 10 June 2014. 15 April 2018.

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Jacobson, Louis. Marco Rubio says U.S. admits 1 million immigrants a year, far more than any nation. 20 June 2012. 15 April 2018.

Jones, Carolyn. Fear, absenteeism, falling grades among impacts of immigration crackdown, study finds. 4 March 2018. 15 April 2018.

Krogstad, Jens and Gustavo López. Roughly half of Hispanics have experienced discrimination. 29 June 2016. 16 April 2018.

Krogstad, Jens, Jeffrey Passel and D’Vera Cohn. 5 Facts About Illegal Immigration in the U.S.27 April 2017. 14 April 2018.

Lee, Esther. Only 37 percent of immigrants have legal representation. 29 September 2016. 15 April 2018.

Lepore, Jill. The Name of War. 1998.

Markon, Jerry. Can a 3-year old represent herself in immigration court? This judge thinks so.5 March 2016. 15 April 2018.

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Rieti, John. Children of immigrants caught between 2 cultures. 15 February 2012. 29 April 2018.

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Shah, Shelly. Assimilation in Sociology: Definitions and Aids to Assimilation. n.d. 16 April 2018.

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Wilson, Jenny. Seemingly Harmless Discrimination Has Harmful Psychological Effects. 8 February 2012. 16 April 2018.


















April 30, 2018