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.