The Role of Social Workers in Immigration
As social workers, it is our responsibility to provide services to marginalized populations in our communities. Among these marginalized groups, there is one in particular that can often be difficult to reach: undocumented immigrants. Unfortunately, this is a population with dire needs for the exact services social workers have to offer.
Problems Confronting Undocumented Immigrants
Undocumented immigrants are subject to a number of injustices due to their precarious status in the United States, yet most endure it to remain in this country.
Young undocumented students face a unique set of challenges. Many arrive in the United States as infants or young children, and live most of their lives here. They consider the United States to be their home, and some are unaware of their immigration status until they begin encountering roadblocks to services during their teen years, when they are prevented from applying for a driver’s license, applying to college and for financial aid, and enlisting in the military. Those who manage to bypass these hurdles face further challenges when attempt to apply for work.
As with most immigrants, undocumented individuals also contend with cultural differences and adjustments. They struggle between maintaining their native culture and practices, and adjusting and adapting to the American way of life. For adults, it’s often more difficult because they are less exposed to American culture and are more rooted in their native cultures. For children, it is much easier to adapt to American culture when they begin school and are exposed to it on a daily basis — however, this poses new challenges to the family dynamic. It’s difficult for parents to understand and come to terms with their children’s changes. They struggle with wanting their children to identify with their native culture and wanting them to successfully integrate in their new homes. Kids, at the same time, struggle with their desire to fit in, which may put them at odds with their parents’ way of life.
Undocumented workers also have trouble accessing health services, especially mental health services. Trauma, abuse and discrimination are common experiences among undocumented immigrants, making the need for physical and mental health services very real and immediate. Furthermore, this initial need is compounded by the additional stress and psychological damage that comes from being forced to endure abuse with no recourse.
These are just a few of the many challenges that undocumented residents currently face in the United States. Social workers can play an important role in helping this group advocate for their rights and access services by getting involved with organizations like the International Federation of Social Workers, which working to change and improve immigration policy. Social workers can also advocate for policies that help undocumented youth have access to education and citizenship. They can further contact their local immigration-based organizations to find out how they can best serve their local community and help them to get access to local resources. Simultaneously, social workers can also serve as a liaison between the immigrant community and the different public services offered in their communities to ensure that both sides understand each other, as social workers have the unique opportunity to access both sides and bring them together.