How Can Immigrants Succeed?

“Once an immigrant, always an immigrant.”

I will never forget this statement once made by a single mother of three who was forced to leave her native land.

I had no time to sell off my property, plan my finances or leisurely depart from my homeland that summer in 1980, when Afghanistan became a front-line against soviet invasion.

In some cases, you have kids whose futures you lose sleep over, or your parents to take care of, and there is no other option to protect them but to leave your homeland in the hopes of finding and building a future life somewhere else. In others—you choose to protect your child from danger by sending them away, without adult protection, in hopes of seeing them find a safe haven.

Somehow, when you are far away from home and lonely—you are considered a lucky one.

You’ve arrived in a new environment without knowing anyone or the language. You can’t really go to school because you have no money, so you have to just find a job ASAP to get the money for you and your family. You want to work--but where do you start?

The words refugee/immigrant and immigration are heard and talked about in every corner of the world today. Laced with pre-conceived meaning, they are words that continue to bring new, unforeseen challenges with the arrival of every new group to a new country.

While migrations have been a part of human history for a long time, immigrants play an increasingly major role in the complex and uncertain process of overall changes taking place in the world.

The global issue of the non-voluntary movement and immigration of people is one of the most pressing and uncertain challenges facing humanity.  Eruption of conflicts and wars continue to give birth to short-, medium- and long-term political, social and economic disorders around the world.  As a result, increasing numbers of migrants undertake dangerous and uncertain journeys by land and sea to reach Europe and North America to escape this chaos, while these countries struggle to deal with the influx of millions—on top of enormous financial challenges at home.

Frankly, it is impossible to cease, control or prevent the movement of masses taking place around the globe. 

Receiving countries like the US and Canada have done a much better job in finding effective means to facilitate a safe and dignified re-location and integration of immigrants.  Canada and Australia have been particularly effective while leveraging the enormous talent, technical skills and entrepreneurial spirit of immigrants.  Providing early incentives (Language classes, business/entrepreneurship, government and local state loan subsidies) has proven extremely effective in successful integration of immigrants in the last two decades.

Several other countries have failed to effectively deal with proper integration of new arrivals. This is particularly true for European countries where new arrivals spend years within segregated areas and confinements: dormitories, former military compounds, or housing units diverged from the rest of the city or remote village. Thousands of families continue to be deprived of basic schooling, job training/opportunities, and any chances for successful integration within their new environment. 

The majority of immigrant children spend the important developmental years growing within compounds of unhealthy, prison-like conditions with limited access to school and advanced education.  Some of these young adults continue to fall prey and join extremist groups, for little pay or out of sheer frustration and lack of opportunities to assimilate into productive members and future citizens of their host nations.

The United States and Canada continue to attract more refugees for resettlement than all other countries combined—and have done a great job in not only welcoming refugees/immigrants, but continuing to provide great opportunities for smooth integration within a new environment.

However, opportunities for many refugees and immigrants during this critical period of transformation in the United States are dwindling. This is mainly due to a lack of strict policies/comprehensive reforms combined with enormous cuts in funding of early language, schooling, and other early job skills development programs.

There are, for example, inconsistent policies governing criminal activities amongst state and federal agencies in different regions with regards to detainees; this is combined with a huge absence of public defenders and resources for rehabilitation.  It is not entirely surprising that new research indicates second generation immigrants in the U.S. are more likely to commit crimes than their foreign-born parents.  The main reasons are attributed to the second generations’ lack of proper education, financial stability, proper parent supervision as well as access to afterschool activities.

In light of the evolving global context of conflict and forced migration, displacement—highlighted mainly by the Middle East crisis—will continue to present new challenges in the years ahead for the European Union and North American nations.

The terrorist event of 9/11 combined with fresh attacks of political violence in European cities has created another dimension and challenge for immigration policies; this climate of fear and uncertainty has shrouded the process of stopping and distinguishing between economic, social, family integration, and the entry of extremist religious groups.

In particular, the U.S. is in dire need of establishing and coordinating efforts between the state and federal government levels in order to support each other and address the challenges of immigration, while respecting the ethnicities as a core base of interest (regardless of their number of generations from arrival) so as to be as inclusive as possible.  It is a valid point and fact that ethnicities all over the world continue to feel the pull of the “American Dream.”

So how do we achieve more consistent, high-quality decision-makings for asylum seekers? How do we—a nation built from immigrants—establish a strong base for future action? I will argue Education is the first priority, followed by the establishment of uniform strategic guidelines on asylum; what’s more an increased engagement by the international community for practical cooperation, strengthening, implementation and consolidation of these existing laws.