The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Immigrant Youth Development: Using Qualitative Methods to Explore Barriers, Mechanisms and Variable Pathways

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 4:30 PM-6:15 PM
Nautilus 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
Cluster: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration
Symposium Organizer:
Benjamin Roth, MSW, University of Chicago
Robert Chaskin, PhD, University of Chicago
Immigrant youth—the foreign- and native-born children of immigrant parents—represent nearly one in four (24%) of all U.S. individuals under age 21, and there is growing concern among researchers and social work practitioners about their variable developmental pathways. To be sure, many immigrant youth are outperforming their non-immigrant counterparts on outcomes such as academic performance, college graduation, and other important developmental milestones, but this is certainly not the case for all immigrant youth. A number of factors interact to influence their developmental trajectory, including country of origin, parental human capital, and the nature of the receiving context where they settle. This symposium will assess the mechanisms of youth development for immigrant adolescents who face significant hurdles, including poverty, poorly-performing schools, and undocumented status.

Today’s immigrants are diverse. Indeed, over 80 percent hail from Latin America and Asia, but a growing percentage is from Africa and other parts of the globe. They are also diverse in terms of the human capital they bring with them. Some are highly-skilled workers who are recruited by the tech sector, while many other immigrants are employed in low-wage jobs in various service industries. As with previous waves of immigrants, they primarily settle in traditional “gateway” cities such as New York and Los Angeles, but they are increasingly moving directly to new settlement areas. These are places such as the American southeast and suburban areas that have not been home to new immigrants for several generations.

Because of this enormous diversity, immigrant youth are coming of age with differing types of supports and in social and policy environments that are more or less welcoming to immigrant newcomers depending on factors such as legal status, English-language skills, gender, and skin color. Large surveys of immigrant youth have helped to identify these factors, and qualitative research is beginning to explore their variegated processes of development. Along the way, qualitative researchers are questioning assumptions about the concept of youth development and how it is conceptualized.

The papers in this symposium will build on this momentum through in-depth analysis of the barriers facing immigrant youth and the mechanisms that help them overcome these obstacles across a range of geographies, institutions, and policy contexts. The papers will also expand on—and reevaluate—our understanding of youth development. Each paper draws on a distinct (and unique) qualitative data set that captures essential elements of immigrant youth development at different time points in the arc of adolescence, from the transition to high school to the transition to college and the world of work. The papers will also assess processes of immigrant youth development in multiple settings—including schools, urban neighborhoods, and suburban communities—and as influenced by marginializing factors such as poverty, legal status, and racial discrimination.

* noted as presenting author
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