African Immigrants in the United States: The Challenge for Research and Practice

Article excerpt

Although considerable resources have been devoted to the study of immigrants, historically there has been a lack of attention to African immigrant groups in the United States. Previous research has examined the adjustment of refugees or immigrants in terms of education; language; and economic, social, and psychological well-being (Haines, 1989). Immigrants face a number of problems, including stress related to acculturation, change, loss, and trauma. Immigrants may not be welcomed by the host society. The tenor of this sentiment is echoed by recent legislative initiatives in some states that propose to deny some immigrants access to social services.

A recent article in Social Work underlines the fact that "little thought has been given to specific practice to help refugees" (Jacob, 1994). The immigration status of these newcomers continues to influence provision of, access to, and use of services (Drachman, 1995). Although several authors have written about the need for cross-cultural understanding, acceptance, and support among helping professionals who work with clients from different cultures (Augsburger, 1986; McGoldrick, Pearce, & Giordano, 1985; Padilla, Wagatsuma, & Lindholm, 1985; Pedersen, 1985; Sue, 1990), there is no research that examines stress and coping among African immigrants or takes into account the care and well-being of African immigrants.

This article describes the results of a study on a sample of African immigrants in the United States. The research had two purposes: (1) to explore African immigrants' integration into the social environment of the host country in light of several interactive processes involving stress, self-esteem, spiritual well-being, and coping resources and (2) to examine the inter-play of immigrants' decisions to emigrate; the role of religion in their lives; length of stay in the host country; and experiences of stress, self-esteem, spiritual well-being, and coping resources. The article then discusses implications for future research and practice with African immigrants.

Background

During the past two decades, the United States has experienced an influx of new immigrants. These immigrants came mainly from Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The cited numbers of these immigrants, however, do not take into account undocumented individuals (Bean, Edmonston, & Passel, 1990).

The immigration status of these newcomers varies. Ahearn (1995) made important distinctions among these new arrivals to the United States - refugees, immigrants, migrants, and illegal aliens. Refugees are people who cross national boundaries in search of safety because they fear persecution. Immigrants are people who have been granted legal permanent residence by their host countries. Migrants are individuals who have been granted temporary residence but intend to return to their countries of origin. Illegal aliens are people who enter another country illegally. A preferred term for illegal aliens is "undocumented people." The 1992 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (U.S. Department of Justice, 1993) reported that there were 19 million migrants to the United States in 1991. That year, more than 1.8 million immigrants were granted permanent residence. Between 1965 and 1992 over 2.25 million people emigrated from Africa to the United States, about 3 percent of the total number of immigrants to the United States. Data from 1983 to 1992 indicate that African immigrants were between 2 percent and 3 percent of the immigrant population (U.S. Department of Justice, 1993).

Although several things account for this wave of migration, two factors deserve mention. The first is kinship, which has played a major role in the history of immigration. In 1965 the Immigration and Nationality Act (P.L. 89-236) made kinship ties the primary rationing device for admitting new immigrants to the United States. The link to kinship resulted in an increased number of women, children, and older people becoming new immigrants. …