Immigrant Children and Restorative Practices

By David Ascencio Arevalo, CFCC Student Fellow, Fall 2020

The United States of America is a nation of immigrants. For many people, the American dream is to come to this country to work and have a better life for themselves and their children. When immigrants decide to come to the United States, either with documentation or without, they often leave behind their spouses, children, parents, relatives, and friends. They also leave their culture, food, religious beliefs, and customs. Often, when immigrants enter the United States and settle down in a new city or town, as soon as they find employment, they start sending money home to their children and other relatives to support them. Frequently, the children of immigrants are sent by their parents to be cared for by a grandmother, an aunt, or an older sibling. When this happens, the child grows up without one or both of their parents, which may result in the child experiencing serious psychological and/or behavioral issues and harassment from gangs or abusive relatives.

After working in the United States for several years, many immigrant parents send for their children. Their reasons may vary. Some parents may be trying to shield their children from gangs and criminality, or they may want a better future for their children and believe this can be attained in the United States. When the children arrive in the United States, they face a completely new world. Now, they must go to school, speak an unknown language, and live with their “strange” parents, step-parents, or half siblings. The children may have to deal with parental correction from a parent whom they may have only seen several times in their lifetime. When immigrant children face these challenges, they may respond in a myriad of ways: get bad grades, fail to attend or drop out of school, become pregnant (or impregnate someone), start to use drugs, and/or start to commit crimes. Tragically, some may even commit suicide.

To address these issues, we should conduct restorative practices circles in schools and in communities where immigrant children reside. Restorative practices are an emerging social science that studies how to strengthen relationships between individuals, as well as how to improve social connections within communities. If communities listen to these children and show empathy toward them, we can prevent some of the social problems they often experience and can build a better society.

Immigrant youth can benefit from restorative practices in many respects. Restorative practices provide youth a space where they can express their issues, concerns, fears, and problems and often can find a solution to their concerns. If we create restorative practices circles involving immigrant youth, the youth can experience an enhanced sense of belonging by developing confidence in their own ability to reach mutual understanding and to develop creative solutions to issues they encounter. The restorative practices circles can increase the immigrant youths’ confidence in the community by teaching them how to handle conflicts collectively, mitigating the effects of unwanted behavior and negotiating restitution for serious harm. If we allow immigrant youth to tell their stories, they will feel that someone is listening. As a consequence, there is a great chance that these children can avoid many of the problems mentioned above and can succeed in their communities.

4 thoughts on “Immigrant Children and Restorative Practices

  1. Hi David,

    I enjoyed reading your blog post. I had never thought about the family dynamic being changed when children rejoin their parents in the United States. I agree that restorative practices may be helpful with children that are going through this experience. Do you think that restorative practices would be equally as helpful with adults?

  2. David,

    Thank you for the perspective you offer in this blog post. I had never considered the implications of immigrant parents coming to the US, leaving their children behind in their home country, then re-unifying years later when circumstances allow. For me, that strain is unimaginable. Implementing restorative practice circles in schools to give immigrant children an outlet for their experiences seems to me a great way to implement restorative practices and to build a supporting community in those participating schools.

  3. Hi David,

    This was such an insightful blog post. Thank you. We often hear about immigration in a post-facto sense. We learn of the issues in a macro sense, but you opened up the conversation. It is interesting to hear the problems immigrant children face upon coming to the United States. The media often portrays immigration broadly, while tending not to focus on the actual individuals involved. As you mentioned, immigrant children do not choose to leave their home. They face tremendous issues. We need to allow them to tell their stories! Their voices are going unheard. We should have conversations with them. Open dialogue is a way to combat the issues and restore the broken aspects of our society. Thank you.

  4. David,

    This was such an insightful post. While many are aware of some of the ways immigrants are immediately impacted, the “longer-lasting” effects aren’t considered as thoroughly, especially regarding children. Too often people assume the children aren’t sacrificing as much as the parent, and when they come to America they are instantly met with the “American Dream.” There is a darker side to the American Dream than people want to acknowledge. Restorative practices would definitely be a good start to address the weight carried by immigrant children.

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