Unique Challenges Facing Teenage Immigrants

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America was founded as a nation of immigrants. With the exception of Native Americans, who predate recorded history, Americans are descendants of people born elsewhere. Over the past 500 years, millions of people from different countries have come to the United States seeking freedom, peace, and the opportunity promised by the American Dream. Between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries people came to America seeking everything from greater physical space to freedom from political or religious persecution. During this era there were also thousands of Africans arriving to America in chains. They were sold as slaves to plantation owners. In the twentieth century millions of Europeans sailed to America seeking better opportunities. Although many laws have been implemented throughout the years to regulate entrance to this country, people continue to come in great numbers seeking similar dreams. In fact, over one million immigrants enter the United States each year (PBS, 2009). Passig describes the four main difficulties experienced by immigrants upon entrance to the U.S. as the language barrier, social difficulties, emotional imbalance, and mental difficulties. Most immigrants are not fluent in the English language. This heightens their feelings of loneliness and alienation. The added pressures of learning a new language and deciphering America's behavioral patterns and social norms can pose many emotional and mental difficulties for immigrants. Passig's research suggests that the ages between 11 and 22 years are not optimal for coping with these difficulties. It is believed that teen immigrants have more difficulty coping with immigration than adults because they are simultaneously coping with the physiological and psychological changes resulting from age-related development (Passig, Eden, & Heled, 2007). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, around 400,000 people try to enter the United States illegally each year. Of this group, about 10 percent are minors. Many endure hardships Teen Immigrants 1

coming to America. A 19-year-old high school student who emigrated from Mexico described his illegal journey to the U.S. in an interview published in The Grady Journal: “I walked a ton and we suffered because there was no water and it was very hot”, “A man who came with the group died on the way, but when we crossed the border I was happy. My American dream had become reality.” (2009). A 16-year-old student also interviewed in The Grady Journal shared her family’s experience working with coyotes to come to America from Mexico when she was eleven years old. Coyotes are American citizens that charge money to bring foreigners into the U.S. Coyotes have been known to drop immigrants off in the middle of nowhere, keeping their money and leaving them to die. The student described walking through the desert four days. She also said the coyotes were bad to her family and did not even provide them with water to drink. She recalled feeling sad, scared and worthless during her. However, she considered herself and her family members to be lucky to have survived the journey since thousands of immigrants have died while trying to enter the country illegally. Teens such as these suffer to make it safely to the U.S. and later struggle to fit in to a new culture (2009). Regardless of their method of journey to the U.S., teen immigrants face a wide range of acceptance, rejection and disregard. They leave behind friends, family and all aspects of life in their native countries in the hopes of making better lives for themselves in America. For many immigrant youths, the transition to high school is the most challenging of their obstacles. Besides learning a new language, immigrant teenagers have to make friends, and adjust to the different technology that is used in American schools. Many immigrant teens also struggle with conflicts posed by their parents’ desire for them to...
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