In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Immigrant Integration in the United States

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Introductory Works
  • Data Sources
  • Additional Resources
  • Websites with Current Information

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Social Work Immigrant Integration in the United States
Westy Egmont, David Takeuchi, Erin McBrady, Ngozi V. Enelamah
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0296


Diversity is a common feature of Western societies, especially in urban areas, and particularly because as immigration continues to transform nations, integration grows as an area of practice and research. Conventional “assimilation” perspectives, which center on a linear path that immigrants travel to become part of the host society, have been challenged by scholarship that finds immigration to be a dynamic and synergistic process. “Immigrant integration” is not a static or narrowly defined term but rather an inclusive description of the dynamic three-way process of change for the migrant, the sending country, and the receiving community. The increase of immigrants, especially beyond the traditional gateway cities, and responses to newcomers have led to the development of new social constructs, contesting older ones, to capture the complex patterns of inclusion and exclusion of distinct immigrant ethnic groups residing in varied settings across the United States. “Integration” as a term is suggestive not of all becoming part of a single culture but rather a process of affirming cultures that combine within the diverse and enriched nation that results. Oscar Handlin wrote in The Uprooted (1951:3) that “Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.” No single academic disciplinary lens provides a complete grasp of immigration, and it is the confluence of disparate theories and methods that sharpens knowledge and insights about the “who, what, and why” of the immigration process and its consequences. The stresses on contemporary society created by significant demographic changes have led to a quest for a more nuanced understanding about the patterns of settlement, the cultural reactions stimulated by these population shifts, and the impact immigration has on education, health, the marketplace, and the democratic institutions of the state. Selected works in this article express the vast array of issues and approaches to understanding the dynamic processes impacting the more than forty-four million residents of America who are foreign born. In recognition of social work as a primary career serving newcomers, this article displays the breath of the theory, methods, issues, implications, and culturally sensitive interventions related to migration. Social workers, educators, and religious leaders are first responders, and presenting these professionals with evidence-based analysis equips both providers and policymakers with the knowledge to facilitate the full social, civic, and economic integration of foreign-born residents. A few comparative works that both acknowledge the unique history of the United States and the global nature of migration are included. There is a complementary body of work in immigration law outside this article, and there are an increasing number of law schools partnering with social work schools to integrate practice. The subject of the “second generation” has not been included, although they warrant a distinct entry. Current political debates and continuing issues of oppression and prejudice also merit an article in themselves. No list can do justice to the wealth of scholarship available, nor even the various experts and emerging scholars, but this effort is offered to ground pursuits in the breadth of approaches and subjects relevant to the field.


Histories and surveys of the literature provide the broader context for investigating immigrant integration, and useful examples are provided by Spickard 2007, Esses and Abelson 2017, and Waters and Pineau 2015. Some of the modern issues confronting immigrant integration are listed at the end of this article, under Websites with Current Information. MIPEX, while comparing fifty-two nations, lays out a scheme of variables that demonstrate the complexities of measuring and analyzing integration. Chang-Muy and Congress 2016 and Hilado and Lundy 2018 are two course textbooks for social work that introduce major themes and trauma-informed interventions. These are excellent resources in understanding particular dynamics facilitating the process.

  • Alba, Richard, and Nancy Foner. 2015. Strangers no more: Immigration and the challenges of integration in North America and western Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1177/0094306116671949b

    A systematic, data-rich, four-country comparison reveals progress and barriers in an array of institutions—from labor markets and neighborhoods to educational and political systems—and controversial questions of religion, race, identity, and intermarriage. Originally published in 2009.

  • Chang-Muy, Fernando, and Elaine P Congress, eds. 2016. Social work with immigrants and refugees: Legal issues, clinical skills, and advocacy. 2d ed. New York: Springer.

    Addresses the intersection of legal, policy, and advocacy issues, in addition to professional clinical skills for those working with foreign-born populations; offered as an undergrad textbook.

  • de Haas, Hein, Stephen Castles, and Mark J. Miller. 2020. The age of migration: International population movements in the modern world. 6th ed. New York: Guilford.

    A leading text revised with the latest theories, policy information, and interdisciplinary research, including causes, dynamics, and consequences of international population movements. Originally published in 1993.

  • Esses, Victoria M., and Donald E. Abelson, eds. 2017. Twenty-first-century immigration to North America: Newcomers in turbulent times. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press.

    An overview of immigration policies and practices in Canada and the United States, and an investigation of the economic and sociocultural aspects, and with a dialogue on precarious migration.

  • Hilado, Aimee, and Marta Lundy, eds. 2018. Models for practice with immigrants and refugees: Collaboration, cultural awareness, and integrative theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

    DOI: 10.4135/9781506300214

    A foundational framework for working with trauma-exposed immigrants and refugees; introduces ecological-systems approaches to address client mental health problems.

  • Portes, Alejandro, and Rubén G. Rumbaut. 2014. Immigrant America: A portrait. 4th ed. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    DOI: 10.1525/9780520959156

    Comprehensive review of relevant theories and indicators of integration. First published in 1990.

  • Spickard, Paul. 2007. Almost all aliens: Immigration, race, and colonialism in American history and identity. New York: Routledge.

    A reconceptualization that embraces the multicultural reality of immigration in the United States. The study illustrates the complex relationship between ethnic identity and race, slavery, and colonial expansion.

  • Waters, Mary C., and Marisa Gerstein Pineau, eds. 2015. The integration of immigrants into American society. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

    DOI: 10.17226/21746

    Summarizes the findings of early-21st-century research on how immigrants and their descendants adapt to American society in a range of areas such as education, occupations, health, and language, with contributions from nineteen noted academics.

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