By Dr Geneive Brown Metzger
NEW YORK, USA -- In large part because of immigration, the child population in the United States is rapidly changing. In 2010, nearly one in four US children under eighteen was the child of an immigrant. Latino, black, Asian, and multiracial children together are nearing a majority of the nation’s children. These “minority” children already account for more than half of US children under age one.
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI), an independent, non-partisan think tank in Washington that analyzes US and international migration trends, recently released a study on the children of African and Caribbean immigrants in the United States. The demographics of the population are changing -- showing a drop-off of immigrants into the US from the Caribbean -- Haiti being the exception -- and an uptick from Africa in the last ten years. The increase of migrants from Haiti since the earthquake in 2010 was a result of relaxed US immigration quotas for Haitians due to humanitarian reasons.
The research finds a number of protective factors for children in families headed by immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean, including high rates of parental education and workforce participation, high rates of English proficiency, strong parental support for education and healthy maternal behaviours (such as lower rates of smoking and higher rates of breastfeeding). The study also consistently found a high rate of child care facilities among children of black immigrants -- resources that have been associated with healthy development and good academic performance.
Yet the news is not all positive. “There are two areas in particular where children of black immigrants overall face greater risks than other children of immigrants: family structure and housing,” said volume co-editor Randy Capps, an MPI senior policy analyst. “They are significantly more likely to live in single-parent families than children of Hispanic, Asian or white immigrants. And they are less likely than non-Hispanic white and Asian children to live in homes that their parents own, and more likely to live in crowded housing.”
Among other findings in the book (Excerpt):
• Advanced education and predominance of English: African immigrants are substantially more likely than the US population overall to hold a four-year college degree or higher (38 versus 27 percent). Seventy-five percent of black immigrants speak English fluently compared to 48 percent of immigrants overall. Educational attainment and English proficiency represent important advantages for black immigrant parents in promoting early child development -- factors associated with higher earnings and better socioeconomic status in America.
• Poverty rates vary: Overall, poverty rates among children of black immigrants (19 percent) are lower than those for children of native blacks (35 percent), but nearly twice as high as those for children of native non-Hispanic whites (10 percent).
• Struggles in academic achievement: Studies of two of the nation’s largest urban school districts (New York City and Miami-Dade County) suggest that black immigrant students face significant hurdles to strong academic performance -- including English language proficiency and school segregation. The studies focus on first-generation students, who may not have had the advantages of centre-based child care and other early childhood supports that US-born children of immigrants often receive.
With respect to the readiness of elementary school Caribbean children, the findings were mixed. There is a concern in New York that Caribbean students are falling behind. At the top end, they are among the better prepared students; however, on average they are doing slightly better than Latino immigrants and not that much better than African American students. There is a difference in the study's findings between first generation immigrant students and second generation immigrant students with the latter perform better academically.
A model for educational advocacy
One of the most active and important organizations in the Caribbean community, the Union of Jamaican Alumni Organizations, has had among its objectives the academic development of Jamaican American children. Jamaican alumni organizations understand that the success of our children is intrinsically connected to the future of our communities in the Diaspora, and potentially to the development of Jamaica as a nation.
As partners in the nation's development, Jamaicans in the Diaspora continue to the most active in contributing to education back home. Contributions of books, computers, funds to pay teacher salaries, build labs and even build schools, are at the center of the mission of alumni organizations in the Diaspora. But more needs to be done, as a community, if we are to change for the better the findings of the MPI study.
Clearly, collaboration among Caribbean American nationals on behalf of our children is necessary. A shared agenda would be inclusive of: a) collective advocacy on behalf of children; b) greater involvement in the public schools; c) the establishment of quality child care centers; and d) involvement in leadership in schools and outside the schools.
Also of importance is how we can more effectively engage and utilize the resources and academic talent of Caribbean Diaspora educators, particularly those in science and technology.