Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

The Immigrant Population in Northwest Alabama: Barriers and Opportunities

Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

The Immigrant Population in Northwest Alabama: Barriers and Opportunities

Article excerpt

Abstract: According to the 2010 US. Census, Alabama experienced a 145% increase in its Hispanic population and has become the top state for immigration settlement in the last decade. The primary purpose of this article is to gain information about the lives and struggles of Hispanic immigrants residing in the three counties of Lauderdale, Colbert, and Franklin in Northwest Alabama. The article examines the systemic barriers and discrimination faced by Hispanic families, and identifies the opportunities and strengths, social activities, and community supports that aid their integration into the new communities. Utilising a community-based participatoy action research fCBPARJ framework, the study uses a mixed methods approach, combining community informant interviews, focus grnps and a small scale suney. It is hoped that the findings from the study will be valuable to community leaders and sendee providers to build partnerships, facilitate cultural understanding, and develop a set of best practices and research approaches that mil lead to the social inclusion of this at-risk population.

Keywords, immigration, demographic shift, discrimination, social transformation

1. Introduction

In recent years, the United States is experiencing a tectonic shift in its population composition from a largely white, domestic bom, Anglo-Saxon, English speaking and Christian, to a burgeoning immigrant, foreign-bom, non-white, ethnically and religiously diverse one. Nowhere is this shift being more clearly felt than in southern United States. This is particularly evident in states like Alabama where the Hispanic population increased by 145% and has become the top state for immigration settlement in the last decade (U.S. Census, 2010a).

The primary purpose of this article is to gain information about the lives and struggles of Hispanic immigrants residing in the three counties of Lauderdale, Colbert and Franklin in Northwest Alabama, an area that has witnessed an explosion in this population in the last fifteen years. The article examines the systemic barriers faced by Flispanic families, and identifies the opportunities and strengths, social activities, and community supports that aid their integration into the new communities. For the purpose of this paper, the term 'immigrant' is used to broadly refer to people who migrated to and currently reside in the United States, and is inclusive of people who are considered foreign bom, undocumented, legal permanent residents and naturalized citizens; the term "Hispanic" is used for persons of Latin American ancestry in accordance with the U.S. Census.

2. Immigration and Demographic Change: A Brief Overview

A study of Immigrant demographic data reveals that the groups of population welcomed or barred from entering the United States follow the pattem of US Immigration policies through different periods of history (Martin & Midgely, 1999). Early legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Japanese Exclusion Act of 1924 reflected the blatant racism towards these groups, while favoring northern and western Europeans (Hurh & Kim, 1989). A major shift in Immigration policy occurred with the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 which established a preference system based on family unification. This Act also allowed skilled workers to enter the United States to meet the labor needs of the growing economy, and imposed ceilings on immigration from the western hemisphere. As a result, this period witnessed a rise in immigration from other regions, particularly Latin America, Africa and Asia (Kochar, 2005; Carlson, 1994). On account of the new immigration policies of 1965, the Refugee laws of 1980, amnesty programs for certain groups of unauthorized alien workers under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), and the Immigration Act of 1990 which increased admission allocation for highly skilled immigrants, the demographic and ethnic make-up of the country has become increasingly diverse (Immigration Policy Center, 2012). …

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