Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth in New York: Struggle for Identity and Inclusion- A Participatory Action Research Study

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08-27-2015 3:55 PM
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Unaccompanied immigrant children are one of the fastest growing, most vulnerable, and yet most underserved and poorly understood populations in our communities. Usually fleeing dangerous or abusive situations in their home countriessuch as gang violence, domestic abuse, and other forms of persecution, conflict or exploitationchildren often have family already living in the United States with whom they are seeking to reunite. Unaccompanied children may experience a constellation of vulnerabilities, including exploitation, poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to justice, healthcare, and education due to their dual status as unaccompanied youth and as undocumented immigrants. At the same time, their motivations for migration, cultural identity, and personal aspirations can make them resilient. In the summer of 2014, the number of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving to the United States from Central America increased nearly tenfold from recent years, and child migrants became the topic of a vociferous political debate. The media and children's rights advocates focused on the root causes of the children's migration, the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, and the need for increased legal services to guide children through their immigration proceedings. Less attention has been paid to how children fare after they have resettled in cities and towns across the country. Recent reports show that approximately 85 percent of children apprehended by federal authorities reunify with a relative or family friend already living in the United States. In fiscal year 2014, nearly 6,000 unaccompanied children reunified with adults living in New York State, with a majority destined for Long Island, New York City, and Westchester and surrounding counties. In response to the lack of knowledge of unaccompanied children's experiences after they have resettled in communities across the country, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) and Fordham Law School's Feerick Center for Social Justice (Feerick Center) designed a participatory action research (PAR) study in collaboration with two community-based partnersCatholic Charities Community Services and Atlas: DIYto assess the needs and circumstances of unaccompanied immigrant youth living in the New York City metropolitan area. This study is a collaboration among researchers, youth and community-service providers. It presents a first account of unaccompanied immigrant youths' needs and insights into practical challenges related to their interactions with key systems in New York. Vera and the Feerick Center trained two former unaccompanied immigrant youths to serve as peer researchers who helped design and carry out the study. The PAR involved a total of 33 individuals participants in two focus groups with 13 youth, and in-depth interviews with 10 youth and 10 key informants with which the youth interacted. Many of the children's needs stem directly from the overlapping problems of being unaccompaniedoften lacking adult supportand being undocumentedliving without legal status. The findings from this exploratory research will help provide a first step to build more coherent policies at the local level to support the inclusion of unaccompanied immigrant children and youth.
Immigrant Students
Home Environment and Language Practices
Family and Community Involvement