Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Promoting the Mental Health of Immigrants: A Multicultural/social Justice Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Promoting the Mental Health of Immigrants: A Multicultural/social Justice Perspective

Article excerpt

Current statistics indicate that the immigrant and refugee populations in the United States are rapidly increasing. In fact, the United States has witnessed the greatest migration in its history with an increase of 44% since 1990 (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, n.d.). Estimates indicate that the foreign-born population is 28 million to 31 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). This means that 1 out of every 10 people in the United States comes from an immigrant or refugee background, with 1 in 5 born in another country or with at least one parent born in another nation (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002).

Immigrants have historically moved to established ethnic communities in the United States located in California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois. In recent years, there has been a substantial increase of immigrant groups who have migrated to various states in New England, the Midwest, and the Rocky Mountain region (Lyman, 2006). For example, from 2000 to 2005, the immigrant population increased 48% in Arkansas, 44% in South Dakota, 34% in Indiana, 32% in Delaware, 31% in Missouri, 28% in Colorado, and 26% in New Hampshire (The Urban Institute, 2007). These states are not accustomed to such racial/ethnic diversity and have little history of or experience in integrating immigrants into their local communities (Layton & Keating, 2006).

Given the rapidly changing racial/ethnic/cultural demographics of the United States and the increasing annual number of immigrants to the United States, mental health professionals need to develop new competencies that will enable them to work more effectively and respectfully with immigrant and refugee clients. With this in mind, the aim of this article is threefold. First, it provides an overview of the characteristics and status of immigrants (those who voluntarily migrate), refugees (those who are forced to migrate), and undocumented immigrants (the term undocumented immigrants is used throughout this article to refer to illegal immigrants because the latter term is viewed as derogatory by many immigrants and immigrant advocates). Particular attention is directed to the similarities and differences in each of these groups. Second, the problems of racism and discrimination as they relate to immigrant populations and counselors are presented along with the adverse impact of these complex problems on immigrants. Third, challenges counselors face as well as practitioner intervention strategies when working with immigrant groups are presented. In addition, a new helping model that is specifically designed to promote the mental health and psychological well-being of immigrants is outlined.

Immigrant Characteristics, Employment Status, and Challenges in the United States

Approximately 75% of all immigrants have legal permanent status in the United States. Of the 25% who are undocumented, 40% have overstayed their temporary visas. Contrary to what many people might believe, less than 2% of the entire U.S. population is made up of undocumented immigrants (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, n.d.). From an employment perspective, immigrants constitute 22% of all low-wage workers and 40% of all low-skilled workers (Capps & Passel, 2004). Almost 50% of these workers have very limited English language proficiency (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002).

Undocumented Immigrants

Undocumented immigrants encounter unique challenges that differ from those of their legal counterparts. Besides having to pay hefty fees to be brought into the United States, undocumented immigrants experience a constant high risk of being caught and subjected to incarceration and inhumane treatment. The journey to the United States is often perilous and bounded by uncertainty, fear, injury, and even death. On the U.S.-Mexican border, there are also risks of encountering the growing U.S. citizen anti-immigrant patrols and vigilante groups, which have been noted to shoot at people whom they believe are "illegals" (Paget-Clarke, 1997). …

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