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Social Isolation and Radicalization
Marginalized Ethnic Minorities:

The current political environment suggests our heterogeneous society faces great risks accepting foreign-born populations, focusing particularly on visible minorities. It was an applause line during a Rhode Island political rally in which factoids from the Bureau of Labor Statistics were read: Trump said, "Here's one I don't like... Syrian refugees are now being resettled in Rhode Island...Lock your doors folks, okay, lock your doors... There's no documentation.  We have our incompetent government people letting them in by the thousands, and who knows, maybe it's ISIS."
To an academic in refugee work, false statements need to be challenged with facts, for the sake of accuracy as well as the sake of humanity. Syrians are vetted eight times over before allowed entry into the United States and the few families settled cause no reason to lock doors. The 3 million refugees settled in the US since 1980 are a success story, and almost all of these refugees are from war zones.  Quite apart from politics, the question of the resulting marginalization of visible minority youth needs attention. Marginalization can have grave consequences: "School failure and drop-out, delinquency, running away from home, and vagrancy are generally considered as markers of marginalization" (Hirschi, 1969). It is not race, religion, national origin or even time in the US that marks a 'risky population.'  It is marginalization. Far right parties in Greece, France, Austria and elsewhere have exploited fear to gain numbers, and the current US political environment has similar dynamics of 'fear politics' that risk moving the US further away from its successful integration history.

Those in the helping professions of social work, clergy and education have significant opportunity to interrupt patterns of marginalization and restore a measure of integration as a prophylactic against the development of homegrown terrorists. Be it the Oklahoma bomber, a white child of the heartland, or David Leach, publisher of pro-life Prayer and Action News that led to the killing of Dr. George Tiller at church, or a radicalized minority from the Middle East, the factors associated with radicalization have become increasingly clear in studies by academics devoted to positive development.

Zilberg (2011) provokes critical thinking with an assessment of Central American gangs and the patterns of deportation that feed those gangs (see Books).  She argues that poor immigration policy perpetuates the very issue it seeks to end and creates blowback. In addition to harsh policy, treating crime instead of the mental illnesses of persons engaged in criminal acts heightens the risk to all as gangs become more powerful and more anti-government, creating more immigrants seeking refuge in the US and less stable communities in both the sending and receiving countries.

Similarly, Ann Trappers, PhD, in Molenbeek, Belgium [Trappers has been a frequent lecturer for my summer course on immigrant integration in Europe and heads Foyer in the heart of the Arab-Belgian neighborhood] notes that employment discrimination and social isolation create at-risk, marginalized populations. "The Muslim population of Brussels is large and internally diverse, but I would say that most Muslims in Brussels are - to a greater or lesser extent, also depending on how you define it - 'integrated.' Organizations such as Foyer focus mainly on fostering social cohesion and on empowering the most marginalized immigrants. So far, however, Brussels has failed to close the employment gap: it largely remains a city of commuter and expat jobs, while many local residents are unemployed (youth unemployment in Molenbeek is still over 35%) and they are clustered together in the poorer municipalities. However, that is just part of what makes up a breeding ground for radicalism and it is one of many factors at play simultaneously. We are also dealing with transnational organized crime in this case, which makes the picture even more complex."

The lack of attachment in radicalized individuals is a common trait. It is often associated with family dysfunction but is expressed in social isolation and detachment from the labor market. Religion does not create the maladaptive behavior but draws in those fringe personalities who then justify their behavior with righteous zeal, often seeking solace from the experiences of discrimination. Positive relationships much more than education foster the anti-terrorist sense of self-worth and cultural acceptance (Gambetta & Hertog, 2016). 

Locking the door to the diversity of the world appears ill advised. It was a Muslim who identified the Paris attacker. It is the integrated members of our society who create bridges enabling others to experience social cohesion even while maintaining cultural differences. Looking at a recent class here at BCSSW of Brazilian, Puerto Rican, Indian, Asian, Jewish, Christian, Confucian, and first, second and third generation students, I cannot but marvel at the US as the epitome of an inclusive society.
Eldering and Knorth (1998) have studied the risk factor of marginalized youth in Europe and it is worth analyzing their perspective within a US context. The United States has robust diversity and historic experience of fostering acculturation, but it is also experiencing the rise of nationalism and xenophobic ideologies. Immigrant neighborhoods in the US are notable for low crime rates. However, as with European migrants, family stress is high and marginalization is associated with the loss of parental control. There is also increased interaction with police, often with negative results. Inequality of chances (Killias' strain theory) explains that the second generation is more at risk than the first (Killias, 1989). 

It has been my theory since founding the IIL that the US refugee program is unusually successful exactly because of the presence of social workers.  They are cultural brokers who foster family connection and societal attachment.  In early resettlement, there were groups of volunteers as well as professionals who interacted with the newcomers and thus increased the likelihood of positive attachments to institutions within the receiving society.

Garbarino (1992) postulated a positive mix for the immigrant family that reduces risk: a) sufficient microsystem of extended family, b) reciprocity in which the child has authoritative parents who simultaneously create autonomy, c) a warm and responsive emotional climate, d) parental competency. Seeking remedy for marginalization leads us to the basics of family life and structure.  Looking ahead, patterns of settlement that foster ethnic cohorts with mutual support are indicated, and patterns that encourage whole families rather than individuals should be continued (the US has a family preference system).

Avoiding risk is not about finding a single tool to ensure the successful integration of every new arrival.  Every group that arrives shares similar stages in adjustment. Acculturation will happen, and family life will be different than before. Positive family life, fostered by belonging to a community where parents find support for their critical role, is the most essential element that can be facilitated by receiving institutions of worship, education and settlement. Positive messages from community leaders that propagate welcome and integration will lead to social cohesion and help avoid the marginalization that occurs as a result of ignorance, prejudice and fear. Peer and adult mentoring of newcomer youth, especially those displaying behavioral issues, can be a powerful agent to remedy those at risk.

America has its future at stake in each generation and each election cycle.  Sustaining the great traditions expressed by the Statue of Liberty and the associated poetry of "Send us your tempest tossed..." demands the country attend to settlement and focus on how to be a receiving society which provides those supportive circles that draw newcomers in. Leaving anyone outside will only foster anger and resentment.
It is my great pleasure to announce the 2016-17 Managing Editor of the Immigrant Integration Lab Newsletter.  Erica Zane Camacho has been active in Immigrant Integration Lab activity, having traveled to the Mexico border with the winter traveling course, 'Services to Migrants'. Before attending BCSSW, Erica earned an MA from Columbia University in International Educational Development, concentrating in Peace and Human Rights Education. She brings with her rich experience from her work with the organization Seeds of Peace.

I also want to thank Krystallia Kallinotizi for her excellent work as Managing Editor for the 2015-16 academic year. It has been a pleasure to work with Krystallia and I am deeply grateful for her commitment to the Newsletter as well as her commitment to social work and immigrant integration. Thanks also to the outgoing members of our editorial team: Jane Margolis, Katelyn Medeiros, Jacquelyn Ozieblowski, Qianqian Zhang, and Caroline Palleschi.
Westy Egmont, Director
BCSSW, Immigrant Integration Lab

Eldering, L., & Knorth, E.J. (1998). Marginalization of immigrant youth and risk factors in their everyday lives: The european experience. Child and Youth Care Forum, 27(3), pp. 153-169.

Gambetta, D., & Hertog, S. (2016, March 10). Engineers of jihad: The surprising link between education and jihad. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved from

Garbarino, J. (1992). Children and families in the social environment. New York, NY: Aldine Transaction Publishers.

Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of delinquency. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, Ltd.

Killias, M. (1989). Criminality among second generation immigrants. Criminal Justice Review, 14(1), 13-42.

Zilberg, E. (2011). Space of detention: The making of a transnational gang crisis between Los Angeles and San Salvador. Raleigh, NC: Duke University Press.

Bridging Refugee Youth and Children's Services (BRYCS), a project of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops and Migration and Refugee Services, maintains the nation's largest online collection of resources related to refugee and immigrant children, youth and families. The agency provides tools, resources, and knowledge about best practices to professionals working with refugee and immigrant populations, including policymakers and researchers. BRYCS also facilitates communication and collaboration between service providers, disseminates information about evidence based practice, and works to improve institutional memory on issues faced by immigrant and refugee families.

BRYCS particularly focuses on youth development and emphasizes the "inherent strengths and resilience refugee youth bring to the resettlement and acculturation process." For example, BRYCS developed a program called "Helping Refugee Youth Find the Right Path," a collection of special resources for professionals working specifically with immigrant youth. Included in this collection are guides for working with youth to prevent extremism, such as resources related to crime prevention, gang intervention, and social inclusion. By sharing these resources with professionals from different agencies around the country, BRYCS facilitates collaborative and effective work between agencies who share the common goal of combating social isolation and extremism in immigrant communities.


Feldmeyer, B., Harris, C.T., & Scroggins, J. (2015)
Social Science Research, 52(1), pp. 1-17
Research on racial and ethnic residential segregation in the U.S. shows that segregation increases crime rates. Feldmeyer, Harris, & Scroggins (2015) specifically explore how the spatial distribution of immigrants within urban settings correlates with violence. Their findings suggest that places with limited socioeconomic resources and high levels of immigrant segregation also have significantly higher rates of homicide, robbery, and index violence. Additionally, the authors suggest that immigrant isolation prevents development of social capital networks, as foreign-born populations are isolated from economic resources like jobs, higher wages, and social services. Without equal access to social capital, higher levels of crime result.    
Lyons-Padilla, S., Gelfand, M.J., Mirahmadi, H., Farooq, M., & van Egmond, M. (2015)
Behavioral Science & Policy, 1(2), pp.1-12
In the last 15 years, terrorist organizations based in the Middle East have recruited Muslims in the United States and Europe via social media. The number of European and American Muslims joining terror organizations has dramatically grown. However, little is known about the factors that drive Muslims in Western countries to become radicalized. Current research suggests that cultural identities and attitudes towards extremism contribute to radicalization. For example, evidence suggests immigrants who identify with neither their heritage culture nor the culture of their host country feel doubly marginalized, insignificant, and are more likely to radicalize. Similarly, social isolation and discrimination against Muslims living in Western countries may also contribute to radicalism. Therefore, it is imperative that policymakers engage in efforts to address the social isolation and marginalization of Muslim Europeans and Americans. 
School community engaging with immigrant youth: Incorporating personal/social development and ethnic identity development
Gonzalez, L.M., Eades, M.P., & Supple, A. (2014)
School Community Journal, 24(1), pp. 99-117
The number of immigrant youth living in the United States continues to grow each year. In fact, projections show that 33% of all school children will be from immigrant households by the year 2040. As such, school personnel, including administrators, counselors, and teachers, should develop their cultural competency, strengthen their understanding of working with immigrant youth, and address ethnic identity development within school contexts. In fact, research shows that healthier school communities socially integrate their students from marginalized ethnic groups using personal and social development models to strengthen immigrant students' ethnic identities. As family, peer, and school contexts have important influences on an immigrant student's identity, it is important that school personnel engage in activities that utilize ethnic identity development in order to further the student's personal and social growth.

Bizina, M., & Gray, D.H. (2014)
Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 5(1), pp. 245-253
Terrorist organizations have successfully recruited a growing number of U.S., Canadian, and Western European youth. Many recruits are young, second-generation Muslims who are socially isolated and living in poor neighborhoods cut-off from larger communities. Research suggests that disenchanted immigrant youth may turn to extremism in pursuit of identity, acceptance, and purpose. Bizina & Gray (2014) recommend a comprehensive approach to the problem of radicalization among youth, emphasizing the importance of communication between government and community. The authors suggest that deradicalization efforts should include community engagement and trust-building between law enforcement, social workers, and local populations.

Pauwels, L., & De Waele, M. (2014)
International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 8(1), pp. 135-153
There have been varying social, political, and psychological theories on violence. For example, current research suggests social integration is negatively correlated with violence, meaning that higher levels of social integration of marginalized groups leads to lower levels of violence. This is consistent with Social Bond Theory. Additionally, higher levels of police legitimacy correlate with violence reduction, consistent with procedural justice theory.  However, Agnew's General Strain Theory suggests that perceived group discrimination relates to increased levels of violence. As legitimacy, social bonds, and perceived discrimination have strong effects on violence independently of one another, no one theoretical framework is sufficient enough to provide an adequate explanation of youth involvement in politically motivated violence.

Muslims, schooling and the question of self-segregation 
By Miah, S.
Palgrave Macmillan (2015)
"Muslims, schooling and the question of self-segregation deconstructs taken for granted societal assumptions, labels and notions by providing up-to-date critical analysis of policies and practices regarding community cohesion and modern multicultural society. This is an important core text for academics and policymakers working on topics of multiculturalism, integration, British Muslim identity and social justice/equality. The author's academic arguments and grassroots insights provide robust and detailed explanations of British Muslim perspectives on education and British identity." - Sadia Habib, The Sociological Imagination
Latino heartland: Of borders and belonging in the Midwest
By Vega, S.
New York University (2015)
"National immigration debates have thrust both opponents of immigration and immigrant rights supporters into the news. But what happens once the rallies end and the banners come down? What is daily life like for Latinos who have been presented nationally as 'terrorists, drug smugglers, alien gangsand violent criminals'? Latino heartland offers an ethnography of the Latino and non-Latino residents of a small Indiana town, showing how national debate pitted neighbor against neighbor-and the strategies some used to combat such animosity. It conveys the lived impact of divisive political rhetoric." - Publisher's Website

Space of detention: The making of a transnational gang crisis between Los Angeles and San Salvador 
By Zilberg, E.
Duke University Press (2011)
Space of detention: The making of a transnational gang crisis between Los Angeles and San Salvador is a powerful ethnographic account and spatial analysis of the 'transnational gang crisis' between the United States and El Salvador. Elana Zilberg seeks to understand how this phenomenon became an issue of central concern for national and regional security, and how La Mara Salvatrucha, a gang founded by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles, came to symbolize the 'gang crime-terrorism continuum.' She follows Salvadoran immigrants raised in Los Angeles, who identify as - or are alleged to be - gang members and who are deported back to El Salvador after their incarceration in the United States. Analyzing zero-tolerance, gang-abatement strategies in both countries, Zilberg shows that these measures help to produce the very transnational violence and undocumented migration that they are intended to suppress. She argues that the contemporary fixation with Latino immigrant and Salvadoran street gangs, while in part a product of media hype, must also be understood in relation to the longer history of U.S. involvement in Central America, the processes of neoliberalism and globalization, and the intersection of immigration, criminal, and anti-terrorist law. These forces combine to produce what Zilberg terms 'neoliberal securityscapes.'" - Publisher's Website

The terrorist's son: A story of choice
By Ebrahim, Z.
Simon and Schuster (2014)
"The terrorist's son: A story of choice is a memoir about the intimate, behind-the-scenes life of an American boy raised by his terrorist father - the man who planned the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Zak Ebrahim was only seven years old when, on November 5th, 1990, his father El-Sayyid Nosair shot and killed the leader of the Jewish Defense League. While in prison, Nosair helped plan the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. In this book, Ebrahim dispels the myth that terrorism is a foregone conclusion for people trained to hate. Based on his own remarkable journey, he shows that hate is always a choice - but so is tolerance. Though Ebrahim was subjected to a violent, intolerant ideology throughout his childhood, he did not become radicalized. Ebrahim argues that people conditioned to be terrorists are actually well positioned to combat terrorism because of their ability to bring seemingly incompatible ideologies together in conversation and advocate in the fight for peace. Ebrahim argues that everyone, regardless of their upbringing or circumstances, can learn to tap into their inherent empathy and embrace tolerance over hatred. His original, urgent message is fresh, groundbreaking, and essential to the current discussion about terrorism." - Publisher's Website

The possibility of peace: Mohamed Nur at TEDxDirigo Generate
The possibility of peace: Mohamed Nur at TEDxDirigo Generate

Follow Professor Egmont on Twitter @wegmont
EDITORS: E. Camacho, W. Egmont, J. Margolis, K. Medeiros, J. Ozieblowski, C. Palleschi, & J. Verkamp