Academic journal article Social Work

Immigrant Policy: Issues for Social Work Practice

Academic journal article Social Work

Immigrant Policy: Issues for Social Work Practice

Article excerpt

Key words: immigrant policy, immigration; refugees; social welfare programs

Immigrant policy refers to policies aimed at facilitating the social and economic integration of immigrants (Fix & Passel, 1994). Immigrant policy is distinguished from immigration policy, which is concerned with regulating who enters the United States and in what numbers. Immigrant policies are related to social welfare, health, education, and housing and employment programs. Thus, the provision of social services plays a central part in immigrant policy. As the primary profession involved in social services delivery, social workers must consider the policy context of providing social services to immigrants. Attention to the changing demographic characteristics of immigrants, their primary areas of need, and the opportunities and limitations of current immigrant policies can provide the foundation for appropriate social work intervention.

Although social work literature has included discussions of practice with immigrants, the underlying concerns have been with their cultural adaptation, namely an understanding of how practice can be sensitive to differences in the worldviews of immigrants given their unique cultural backgrounds. Still, social work has made limited, but important, contributions to the study of immigrant integration at a broader level. Recent analyses by Drachman (1992), Jacob (1994), and Sherraden and Martin (1994) provide a conceptual framework for understanding the relevance of earlier immigrant group experiences to their adjustment to their country of destination.

Overall, the social work literature shows that to different degrees, immigrants face a series of stress-producing events that result in the need for assistance and support; such events include separation from family and community, journeys of different durations and levels of danger, and relocation problems associated with finding housing and employment.

Social work's primary concern in the field has been the conceptualization of the psychosocial aspects of immigration and their impact on the successful integration of immigrants. The focus has been on the needs, experiences, and circumstances of immigrants at different phases of the immigration process (premigration, transit, and resettlement) and the need to consider this knowledge in designing responsive service delivery (Drachman, 1992).

In studies of immigration, the emphasis on individual adaptation has given way to the realization that the success of immigrants also depends on the extent to which social and economic conditions and related policies facilitate their integration (Edmonston & Passel, 1994). Therefore, along with an understanding of immigrant experiences, the ability of social workers to provide services to immigrant families is defined by the policy context in which they operate. Although social work practice depends largely on changing policy directives, much less attention has been given to this dimension of social work with immigrants (Le-Doux & Stephens, 1992).

This article examines current issues related to immigration in the United States. The increasing numbers of and diversity among immigrants and the pressing needs of these new arrivals present a challenge for social work practitioners. At the same time, federal and state immigrant policies provide the context for the level of resources and services available to help immigrants assimilate economically and socially. It is important to understand immigrant access to government assistance, the extent to which immigrants use social services to meet their needs, and the other strategies they use to survive.

Changing Demographic Profile of Immigrants

To project the types of services that immigrants need to facilitate their social and economic incorporation, it is necessary first to have a clear knowledge of the changing demographic trends in immigration and some of the major factors shaping those trends. …

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