The Challenges Faced by Immigrants

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Immigration has long been a key component of the United States’ economy, providing labor and capital and helping to fuel its growth. But it also raises thorny questions and poses complicated political quandaries. Throughout history, immigrants have brought with them fresh ideas and energy, as well as their unique perspectives. They have helped to shape our nation’s culture and to sustain our national identity.

The current US immigrant population, which now numbers about 40 million people, is the largest in our country’s history. While the majority of immigrants are Latino, a significant number come from other parts of the world, especially in recent years.

Despite the challenges, many immigrants find happiness in their adopted home and country. Those who have integrated into American society report a high level of well-being, with many pointing to their children as a source of satisfaction. But there are a number of caveats to consider, including the fact that the definition of “well-being” can be subjective, and the idea that some groups of migrants are free from struggle erases difficult experiences and creates an illusion of ease in a diaspora. As Sara Ahmed explains in her 2010 book The Promise of Happiness, for example, the idea that a legal migrant is happy without a lot of struggle and with zero costs leads to framing those who do not have this privilege as melancholic, unhappily living in exile.

While they often say that they love America and its ideals, most immigrants also have a deep connection to their countries of origin. In fact, 59 percent of respondents reported regularly phoning family in their home countries and sending money.

When asked about their biggest concerns, most respondents identified financial stability and other economic issues. This is not surprising, given that the path to citizenship takes a long time and can be costly. And if one misstep occurs, the consequences can be severe.

Another major challenge is navigating the complexities of American civic life, which can be difficult for those who speak limited English or no English at all. But if immigrants are to thrive and contribute in the best way possible, they must be fully able to participate in civic life.

Finally, many immigrants are a crucial part of the nation’s birthrate, which has dropped to historically low levels among the native born population. A low birth rate can reduce the demand for housing and other consumer goods, and ultimately slow the economy. Fortunately, immigrants can help counteract these effects.

CAP’s research and reporting have found that the United States can better serve its immigrant community by offering more opportunities, creating jobs, improving public safety, supporting healthy communities and promoting educational equity. The Corporation funds organizations from all points on the political spectrum to pursue these goals. Learn more about the economic impact of immigration and other key issues in our latest video, Five Facts about Immigrants and Our Economy. We also encourage you to explore our full portfolio of investigative journalism and policy analysis.