Linn spent a decade in law enforcement prior to transitioning into teaching on a university level.  He presently teaches as an Assistant Professor in the Social Science Department at Shorter University.  He can be found on Twitter @Professor_Pitts and is writing a dissertation on gatekeepers in Countering Violent Extremism programs in the United States.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

Title: The Conflict of a New Home: African Migrants and the Push/Pull Factors during Acculturation

Date Originally Written:  February 13, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  May 28, 2018.

Summary:  Whether migrant has voluntarily relocated to the US from a country in turmoil or a refugee being resettled to the US, the individual may still face factors that pull them towards the conflict of their homeland and may push them from full acculturation in their new society.

Text:  While it is important for the U.S. to have good foreign policies that are able to help address turmoil in African countries, equally important is the posture taken by entities in the U.S. towards migrants that may have moved or been displaced. According to Boyle and Ali [1] the general theories of migration include three broad categories concerning acculturation (the process of social, psychological, and cultural change that stems from blending between cultures) at the end of the migrant’s journey. The categories include group dynamics, reception of the new society, and the nature of the exit from their home country. All of these categories serve as excellent assessment points for developing an understanding of the issues faced by migrants. For the purposes of this assessment, the primary focus is group dynamics and the reception of a new society. If policy makers understand the nuances of group dynamics and the reception possibilities of a new society, they will be better prepared to provide good governance.

Group dynamics include cultural aspects and family dynamics illustrated by interactions within extended families and communities. These group dynamics can be problematic as Boyle and Ali explain as family structures are impacted by what U.S. law has deemed a family such as the exclusion of polygamy, the allowance of only nuclear family members to migrate as a group, and the lack of elder support in their transplanted home. Boyle and Ali further indicate that conflicts from their home countries have already broken some families apart. Each migratory situation will vary depending on the state of being a migrant or a refugee as noted by Bigelow [2]. Boyle and Ali further specified that the loss of extended family members severely impact the migrant families such as limiting child care and a lack of traditional family roles. In seeking to properly conceptualize these aspects, a purposeful interview was conducted with a migrant. In personal communications with Mia (pseudonym), she noted her family moved to the U.S. when she was approximately eight years of age and she is now 21 years of age. The relocation to the U.S. was prompted by tribal conflicts that limited opportunities in her home country in Central Africa. She confirmed that since arriving in the U.S., the lack of extended family was problematic, especially regarding the roles her parents once held in their home country. In general, these issues would categorically further migrant reliance on state resources such as outside parties to resolve disputes and the social service programs.

The reception of the new society as noted by Boyle and Ali entails a period of adaptation and sometimes it is a struggle due to the removal of family support. Whereas dependence on social service programs may provide time for adaptation and development of social capital, it may not completely replace the extended family. Mia stated she found it difficult to acculturate due to bullying, issues with racial identity, and struggles adapting academically primarily based on differences in English, a point supported by Bigelow. Mia was bullied by African-American children in part due to misperceptions, “African-Americans view (sic) Africans as savages, uneducated, and poor,” Mia remarked. Continuing, she said “often time I do not see myself as black but as African.” It is an interesting concept supported by the work of Bigelow revealing migrant parents of Somali youth were concerned about the perceptions of the interactions with African-American children, especially if their children are viewed as unruly. Mia noted the parental views had merit concerning an understanding of the difficult transitions to life in the United States. While Central African and Horn of African nations are distinct entities in different regions of the Africa, Mia described the cultural contexts as “that’s just African,” She found friendship with children who had relocated from Kenya and Nigeria. Bigelow noted that the migrant children are living in two worlds, their world at home and their world at school. This two-world construct was also supported by Zhou [3] in a discussion of cultural identity and the impact on children of migrants.

Another point of reception in a new society deals with the aspects of understanding local laws during a period of acculturation. The transition can be aided by groups and religious organizations seeking to aid in the transition to the U.S. While recent arrests and later convictions of Minnesota-based Somalis seeking to join the Islamic State captured headlines, consider efforts of municipal agencies in Minnesota [4] and Clarkston, Georgia located on the outskirts metro-Atlanta. According to David (personal communications), a missionary in Clarkston, the city was chosen to be a refugee resettlement area in the 1990s. He noted the area was a prime location for refugee resettlement due to the high degree of apartment complexes (near 80%), featured a low-cost of living, it was close proximity to a major airport, and it had a public transit available to Atlanta. Moreover, he detailed that Time Magazine deemed this portion of Clarkston as the most diverse square mile in the U.S. As an example, approximately 100 languages were spoken at Indian Creek Elementary School in Clarkston. When asked about the Somali population, David stated it was previously the largest migrant population in Clarkston but population dynamics recently shifted due to the Myanmar Crisis. Clarkston is a success because people who come to the U.S. as a result of U.S. asylum and refugee resettlement programs not only have a place to settle, but that place has many features which, according to Salehyan and Gleditsch [5], can help minimize tensions during acculturation. Clarkston, through its ability to make acculturation smoother, allows grievances to be addressed early so they do not lead migrants down extremist pathways.

Regarding grievances and tensions, Somalis, like most inhabitants of developing countries, have a legacy of distrust with the police [6] an aspect intensified by recent efforts of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials [7]. Boyle and Ali found Somali men feel persecuted in the United States by law enforcement mainly due to enforcement of laws such as domestic violence. Whereas in Somalia, the family elder may intervene to address problems, due to aforementioned issues the elders are not present. Law enforcement officers have a great deal of discretion in their daily activities, unless arrest is mandated by statute such as domestic violence. Even if law enforcement acts in good faith with the intent of upholding the law, issues could still arise. Weine, Eisenman, Kinsler, Glik, and Polutnik [8] identified that law enforcement may create resentment and ultimately diminish cooperation from communities if these communities are policed in a way seen as culturally incompatible. Weine, Eisenman, Kinsler, Glik, and Polutnik suggested a community health approach. This approach was indirectly supported by Boyle and Ali in their examination and later assessed by Cummings, Kamaboakai, Kapil, and Stone. In closing, while generous U.S. policies enable migrants to come to the U.S., unless the location where they finally arrive is prepared to receive them, and local capabilities are ready to provide close and continuing support during acculturation, the migrant will likely continue to face a friction-filled existence. This existence may make the migrant feel pulled back home and simultaneously pushed into a new society which they do not understand.


[1] Boyle, E.H., & Ali, A. (2010). Culture, structure, and the refugee experience in Somali immigrant family transformation. International Migration, 48(1), 47-79.

[2] Bigelow, M. (2010). Mogadishu on the Mississippi: Language, racialized identity, and education in a new land. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

[3] Zhou, M. (2003). Growing Up American: The challenge confronting immigrant children and children of immigrants. Annual Review of Sociology. 23. 63-95. 10.1146/annurev.soc.23.1.63.

[4] Cumings, P., Kamaboakai, E. T., Kapil, A., & Stone, C. (2016). A Growing Community: Helping Grand Forks increase inclusion of new Americans.

[5] Salehyan, I., & Gleditsch, K. S. (2006). Refugees and the spread of civil war. International Organization, 60, 335-366.

[6] Haugen, G. A., & Boutros, V. (2015). The locust effect: Why the end of poverty requires the end of violence. Oxford University Press.

[7] Redmond, J. (2017, April 13). Immigration arrests target Somalis in Atlanta area. Atlanta Journal Constitutional. Retrieved from

[8] Weine, S., Eisenman, D. P., Kinsler, J., Glik, D. C., & Polutnik, C. (2017). Addressing violent extremism as public health policy and practice. Behavioral sciences of terrorism and political aggression, 9(3), 208-221.