How Do the Struggles of Immigrants Impact Their Lives?


How Do the Struggles of Immigrants Impact Their Lives?

Ye Zin Cho

More than 43 million people in the United States are foreign-born individuals, which include both citizens and non-citizens, and make up 13.7% of the U.S. population, according to the Center for American Progress Immigration Team. This number is expected to reach 78 million by 2065. The increasing number of immigrants will face countless challenges that many foreign-born individuals have to solve. The struggles that immigrants face are underscored by interviews done by students and staff at Bergen County Academies.

A New York Times article shows that of US immigrants in 2011, 45% were family-based, 9% work-related, 11% humanitarian, 4% free movement and other, and 30% were temporary. The official White House source,, also mentioned that the United States admitted about 9.3 million immigrants based on family relations.

Taken to a local context, 133 students at Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, New Jersey, replied to a survey about the struggles that immigrants face. (The 34 students who answered that they did not have immigrant parents or were not immigrants themselves were not used in the following data.) The three-quarters of the students surveyed at BCA responded that they come from an immigrant background.  

Student responses to the question, “Is your family (you or your parents) an immigrant family?” 74.4% of the 133 students responded that they had an immigrant family.

The vast majority, making up two-thirds of the responses of the students who had immigrant parents or were immigrants themselves, responded that they moved to the United States for a better life for their family. Better education and job opportunities were tied to 59.6% of the students, and trouble in home country made up 28.3% of the reasons why immigrants moved to the United States. Some other reasons students mentioned in the survey included: marriage, legal issues, avoidance of draft in the home country, and surgical procedures that were not available in the home country.

Student responses to “Why did your family move to the United States?” 66 students responded that their family wanted a better life in a new country, 59 students responded job opportunities, and 59 students responded better education.

Moving to new countries leads many immigrants to struggle due to the challenges that they face. Students at Bergen County Academies replied that cultural differences were the main struggles that either they personally or their parents faced. Three-quarters of the surveyed students stated that the language barrier was another difficulty that they had to overcome. 41.4% of the students stated that racism was another struggle that they faced, and other struggles that students mentioned included: job opportunities, geographical differences, stereotypes, and distance from family.

Student responses to “What were some of the struggles that you or your parents faced as an immigrant?” 78 students responded that cultural differences was a difficulty adjusting to life in the United States, 75 students stated that the language barrier was an obstacle, and 41 students stated that racism was a struggle.


Zofia Przedworska, a sophomore, describes her language barrier, “I was rarely teased about my accent, but many people have asked me this question: ‘Why do you talk so funny?’…I frequently have to repeat things that I say, because people sometimes do not understand me the first time I say something. Encounters such as those make social interactions very awkward.” However, as many students as well as one staff member explained, their parents, or they personally, were able to overcome their struggles through different ways. Maya De Los Santos, a junior, describes her father’s experience and how “being able to speak his language and to just be himself, without having to change anything in order to be better accepted by the society” helped her father push through the hard times during his first years as an immigrant. For Señora Tolmo, knowing that staying in the U.S. would change her life and education allowed her to persevere through the hard times in her life.

The struggles described by the local students and staff are issues seen globally. Thomas King, a sophomore, describes, “Everyone is an immigrant, whether your family came here thousands of years ago, or four hundred, or your parents just moved, we’re all immigrants, and I think we all need to share the immigrant story.”

Maya De Los Santos describes what she learned from her father’s experiences, “As long as we remember to just be accepting of everyone, as we move forward in whatever career we decide to go into, whatever position we decide to have in society, I feel like that’s what’s most important, to just be accepting of everyone.”

Señora Tolmo also states that her experiences as an immigrant has “given [her] a sense of humility and a sense of being humble, to be able to see the people who are coming now, and they don’t know the language, so instead of criticizing them or judging why they’re doing the things that they’re doing, [she is] able to have an open mind.”