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MPI Launches Research Series Examining Effects of Discrimination on Developmental Outcomes for Young Children of Immigrants in U.S.
Press Release
Tuesday, September 1, 2015

MPI Launches Research Series Examining Effects of Discrimination on Developmental Outcomes for Young Children of Immigrants in U.S.

WASHINGTON — Research on the children of immigrants shows that the majority of them perceive discrimination, and that they more easily read signs of personal than institutional discrimination. Instances of personal discrimination can have broad psychological, physical, academic and social consequences for immigrants’ children.

In three papers coming out over the next two weeks, the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy examines the effects of discrimination on the children of immigrants, whether they are themselves immigrants or were born in the United States to immigrant parents. The series was supported through a research grant from the Foundation for Child Development.

The first report in the series, The Educational, Psychological, and Social Impact of Discrimination on the Immigrant Child, focuses on incidents of personal discrimination, as perceived by the child, that have identifiable repercussions. The report finds that the effects of personal discrimination are similar across immigrant groups, and are not culturally specific.

Children are most likely to experience discrimination at school, where they spend many of their waking hours. Report author Christia Spears Brown, an associate professor of developmental psychology at the University of Kentucky, examines the literature on discrimination in school settings. Studies show that by elementary school, children of immigrants report being treated unfairly by teachers, receiving verbal insults, being excluded from activities or being threatened with physical harm by peers. By their teen years, immigrants’ children report that they have been graded unfairly, discouraged from joining advanced-level classes and disciplined excessively for the same behaviors as other children.

“Children who are discriminated against by their peers, for example, are more likely to exhibit racial mistrust, problem behaviors, and greater anxiety, aggression, hopelessness and depressive symptoms,’” Brown writes. “Children who experience discrimination from their teachers are more likely to have negative attitudes about school and lower academic motivation and performance, and are at increased risk of dropping out of high school.”

The report suggests the need for more research in this developing field, in particular disentangling the consequences of discrimination from those of other associated factors, such as poverty and residential instability.

“Counteracting the effects of discrimination is challenging, especially given that children of immigrants are more likely to live in poverty and attend segregated schools with fewer resources—any of which could independently affect outcomes,” said Migration Policy Institute President Michael Fix.

Nevertheless, a growing body of research points to a number of factors that may buffer children from the detrimental effects of discrimination: a positive ethnic identity, supportive family environment and the coping responses employed by the children themselves. Schools can support immigrant children through anti-bullying policies, communicating effectively with immigrant families and carefully evaluating services targeting immigrant children (for example placement in English as a Second Language classes) to ensure they do not encourage institutional discrimination.

The two papers released next week will focus on the impact of discrimination on the early schooling experiences of immigrants’ children, as well as the economic, social and health effects of discrimination on Latino immigrant families.

Today’s report can be downloaded at www.migrationpolicy.org/research/educational-psychological-and-social-impact-discrimination-immigrant-child.

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The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. 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. MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy is a crossroads for elected officials, researchers, state and local agency managers, grassroots leaders and activists, local service providers and others who seek to understand and respond to the challenges and opportunities today’s high rates of immigration create in local communities. For more on the center’s work, visit www.migrationpolicy.org/integration.