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Refugee Families with Young Children in the United States Are Generally Integrating Successfully and Achieving Self-Sufficiency, New MPI Report Finds

Press Release
Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Refugee Families with Young Children in the United States Are Generally Integrating Successfully and Achieving Self-Sufficiency, New MPI Report Finds

WASHINGTON—Despite facing significant risks to their well-being including linguistic isolation, poverty, and past experiences of trauma, on the whole refugee families with young children in the United States are integrating successfully and achieving self-sufficiency over time, according to a new report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI). Compared to other immigrant groups, children in refugee families benefit from several protective factors, including strong family structures, high parental employment and high parental education, which facilitate their successful integration.

Amid record flows of refugees worldwide, including those seeking asylum in Europe, the United States refugee resettlement program remains the largest such operation in the world, accounting for two-thirds (66,000) of the 98,000 refugees who were permanently resettled in 2013. The refugee population in the United States has become more diverse in recent years; between fiscal years 2002 – 2013, the United States admitted 644,500 refugees from 113 countries.

Most research, including past work by MPI, has shown the long-term outcomes for refugees resettled in the United States to be generally positive. However, the majority of studies on refugee integration focus on adults, with little attention paid to how children of refugees are faring. The new MPI report, Young Children of Refugees in the United States: Integration Successes and Challenges, attempts to fill these gaps in knowledge by presenting a demographic and socioeconomic data profile of the 941,000 children ages 10 and younger with refugee parents living in the United States in 2009-2013. These children account for nearly one in 10 of all children of immigrants nationwide.

“Refugees are the only U.S. immigrants who benefit from a comprehensive, national integration program, and as such, the well-being and integration outcomes of their children have important policy implications,” said lead author Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at MPI.

Using analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey in combination with administrative data from the U.S. Department of State’s Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Office of Refugee Resettlement, the report provides key data on children of refugees in several different areas, including top origins and geographic resettlement patterns, poverty rates, share of U.S. born, languages spoken and English proficiency, exposure to refugee camps, family structure and size, parental education and employment, use of public benefits, health insurance coverage, and much more.

Among the report’s other top findings:

  • Most (89 percent) young children of refugees are U.S. born, and their parents tend to belong to groups that have resettled in the United States in the largest numbers over time, including those from Vietnam, Cuba, and Laos.
  • The refugee population has diversified in recent decades, with refugees resettled in 2013 speaking 162 different languages.
  • Children of refugees face risk factors including low parental English proficiency and high poverty. Among children of refugees resettled in 2013, almost one-third lived in linguistically-isolated homes where no one age 14 or over spoke English very well, and one-quarter lived in families with incomes below the federal poverty level.
  • In the 2009-13 period, 81 percent of refugees’ children lived with two parents, versus 75 percent of children of other immigrants and 62 percent of children of the U.S. born. Children of refugees were also more likely than children of the U.S. born to have a working parent in the home: 89 percent versus 84 percent.
  • Refugee children may have experienced trauma before resettlement, leading to poor mental health and behavioral and cognitive difficulties. While being U.S. born could be a strong protective factor, these children may still be negatively affected by the trauma experienced by their parents.
  • More than half of children with refugee parents live in five states (California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Washington). These states generally have deep experience resettling refugees, but the strength of their safety nets for immigrants and other low-income populations varies.

The report is the second in an interdisciplinary research series exploring the characteristics, experiences, and needs of young children of refugees in the United States. The first report in the series can be found here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/providing-head-start-improving-access-early-childhood-education-refugees

Read the new report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/young-children-refugees-united-states-integration-successes-and-challenges

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more, visit www.migrationpolicy.org.