Carola and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco: Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Hurts Children

Op-ed in U.S. News and World Report points out harmful effects of Trump’s comments on undocumented immigrants on youth.

In an op-ed today in U.S. News and World Report, Professor Carola Suárez-Orozco and Wasserman Dean Marcelo Suárez- Orozco say that anti-immigrant sentiments by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are “a toxic narrative [that] paints with an expansive brush, tarnishing many hapless targets along its way.”

“The United States has always been an immigrant nation and throughout its history the arrival of large numbers of immigrants has spawned xenophobic narratives,” write the Suárez-Orozcos in today’s online editorial. “We love and celebrate immigrant backgrounds but always resent newcomers in the here and now. That was true of the Irish in Boston and the Eastern European Jews in New York then and it is true of the Mexicans today.”

The Suárez-Orozcos state that a quarter of U.S. children today are immigrants or the children of immigrants; approximately one-third of the population under age 34 are part of this demographic. Their Longitudinal Immigrant Student Adaptation Study of 400 newcomer 12-year-olds in Boston and Northern California, who arrived from Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America, revealed the negative self-stereotyping as a result of others’ perceptions of their race, intelligence, and status.

“One of many questions we asked was a simple fill in the blank: “Most Americans think that most [people from the respondents’ birthplace] are _________,” write the Suárez-Orozcos. “Sixty-five percent of children responded with negative terms. Indeed the most frequent word used was “bad,” though many children had more elaborated thoughts: “Most Americans think that Mexicans are lazy, gangsters, drug-addicts that only come to take their jobs away,” one 14-year-old boy said. Beyond criminality other negative associations channeled by the kids in our study focused on issues of contamination (“We are garbage,” another 14-year-old boy said) as well as competence (“We can’t do the same things as them in school or at work,” said a 10-year-old girl).”

The five-year study revealed little change in the negative attitudes toward Mexican, Dominican, and Haitian children, with a little less than half of Chinese youth reporting negative responses.

“Repeatedly hearing denigrating messages – criminals, rapists, anchor babies – sows doubt, saps optimism and elevates anxiety,” write the Suárez-Orozcos. “In a national survey of immigrant students completed earlier this year at UCLA we found highly elevated rates of anxiety and stress when compared to non-immigrants. Growing up in an exclusionary climate threatens well-being, positive identity formation and social belonging.”

Carola Suárez-Orozco is professor of Human Development and Psychology at the UCLA Department of Education. She is co-author of “Children of Immigration “ (With M. Suárez-Orozco), and co-editor of “Learning a New Land: Immigrant Students in American Society,” (with M. Suárez-Orozco and I. Todorova). She co-edited the forthcoming “Transitions: The Development of Children of Immigrants” with Mona Abo-Zena and Amy Marks.

Marcelo Suárez-Orozco is the author of “Central American Refugees and U.S. High Schools: A Psychosocial Study of Motivation and Achievement.” He co-directs the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, and Education with Professor Suárez-Orozco and Robert T. Teranishi, professor of education and the Morgan and Helen Chu Chair in Asian American Studies at UCLA.

To read, “Words Matter” in U.S. News and World Report, click here.