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What is the definition of a first generation immigrant in America?

What is the definition of a first-generation immigrant in America?

What is the definition of a first-generation immigrant in America? What about “second-generation” immigrants? Do they exist? If so, what would they be called?

In the United States, first-generation immigrants are individuals who were born in a foreign country and have immigrated to the U.S. Second-generation immigrants are children of first-generation immigrants who were born in the United States.

The term “second generation immigrant” is commonly used to describe this group of individuals, as they are born to immigrant parents but are themselves U.S. citizens by birth. The U.S. Census Bureau defines them as “native-born individuals with at least one foreign-born parent.”

Beyond the second generation, the third and fourth generations can also be used to describe the descendants of immigrants who have continued to reside in the United States. However, some scholars argue that the term “generation” loses meaning beyond the second generation, as subsequent generations are more thoroughly assimilated into American society.

It should be noted that the terms “immigrant” and “migrant” are not interchangeable, as “immigrant” refers to someone who moves to a new country with the intention of settling there permanently, while “migrant” refers to someone who moves from place to place for work or other reasons.


Generational status: first, second, and third-and-higher generations

“The Census Bureau uses the term generational status to refer to the place of birth of an individual or an individual’s parents. Questions on place of birth and parental place of birth are used to define the first, second, and third-and-higher generations. The first generation is composed of individuals who are foreign-born. The second generation refers to those with at least one foreign-born parent. The third-and-higher generation includes individuals with two U.S. native parents.”

Harvard UNIVERSITY Definition

“A person who is a first-generation immigrant is defined as one who is born outside of the United States. 1.5-generation immigrants are individuals who came to the United States as children. Second-generation immigrants are born in the United States but have parents who were born abroad.”

What do you think of the term “main character syndrome”?

According to the “Migration Policy Institute,”

“An immigrant is a person living in a country other than that of his or her birth. No matter if that person has taken the citizenship of the destination country, served in its military, married a native, or has another status, he or she will forever be an international migrant.”

“To be an immigrant can thus comprise a variety of experiences, some more legally privileged than others. Generally, though, immigrants may be described as the “first generation” in their new country. Native-born children with at least one migrant parent make up the second generation. A later-added term seeks to address the space in between the first and second generations: the 1.5 generation. Members of the 1.5 generation migrated, likely with their parents, as children or teens.”

In my humble opinion,

These terms are just another means to inject racial and ethnic identity politics into the immigration issue, used by sociologists and academics because they have to keep immigrants and their children separated from native-born citizens to maintain a “victim” class.

Ever since the media and academia started using intentionally divisive terms like “African American,” “Irish American,” “Mexican American,” “German American,” etc., we’ve been on the path of racial and ethnic identity politics, in which the group or cohort you belong to is neatly packaged by politicians to pander for votes and power. Thus spawned the strategy of “victimhood,” in which a group would claim they’re victims of some other group or a public policy in order to seek retribution, compensation, or greater power, which, in itself, fuels more divisiveness.

To pursue these goals, groups have to enlist the aid of a particular politician or party, thus promising to deliver a voting “bloc,” and the reliability of that bloc to deliver votes will, in turn, be dependent upon the ability of the politician or party to deliver “protected status” and whatever other government benefits are demanded by the group.

“First-generation immigrant” and “second-generation immigrant” are divisive and meaningless terms, because in reality, neither exists except in the minds of those who benefit from keeping people separate and unequal. Any person born here is not, by any stretch of the imagination or truth, an immigrant, but a native-born American citizen. Period.

We are not defined by where our parents came from or when.

End of rant.

What is the definition of a first-generation immigrant in America? What about “second-generation” immigrants? Do they exist? If so, what would they be called?

  • First-generation immigrants are the ones who moved to a new country.
  • Second-generation immigrants are the ones born in the new country.
  • 3rd generation: the person who moves to the country’s grandchildren.

If someone moves to a new country with their children, both themselves and their child will be the first generation. Because neither of them were born in the country they have immigrated to.

These are commonly accepted definitions. It becomes a little bit confusing for the 1.5th generation; usually this term refers to the kids who moved with 1st generation parents, but if the kids were young enough (full education in the new country), sometimes they are referred to as the 2nd generation.

Am I considered a second-generation immigrant but a first-generation American?

If you were born here, you’re not an immigrant, by definition. If you want to identify with your parents’ culture and ethnicity, that’s fine. A lot of people do that. Immigrants are first-generation Americans. If your parents came here from elsewhere, but you were born here, you’re a second-generation American.

According to a multitude of sources, ranging from Wikipedia to several dictionaries, there’s no well-established, unambiguous definition. The term can apply to immigrants who become citizens and to children of immigrants who are the first generation born in the US. Sociologists don’t have a firm definition either.

Depending on which definition(s) you use, my kids are first-generation Americans, my wife and I are first-generation Americans, both my parents are first-generation Americans, and my grandparents are all first-generation Americans, without the definitions being used consistently from one person to another.

Changing definitions can make my children second generation, me second generation, my father second generation, and the others I mentioned first generation. While it would be illogical to use a different definition for different family members, it would be fair to say that each could be identified individually by those definitions depending on the circumstances.

Although there are those who insist on one meaning or another, words and phrases mean what they are generally understood to mean based on how they are generally used. Since the usage of each definition is well established, widespread, and based on a rational criterion, giving a firm, unambiguous definition is tantamount to saying that the dictionaries are wrong. But they are right, by definition.

Why are people who were born in the United States and whose parents were immigrants called “Dreamers?” What does the term mean?

People born in the United States to immigrant parents are not generally called “Dreamers.” The term “dreamer” specifically refers to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Here’s why:

  1. Origin: The term “dreamer” comes from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a proposed piece of legislation aimed at providing a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria.
  2. Eligibility: To be considered a “dreamer,” individuals must typically:
    • Have been brought to the US as children before a certain age (often 16).
    • I have lived in the US continuously for a specific period (often several years).
    • Have graduated from high school or obtained a GED.
    • Have no criminal record.
  3. Significance: The term “dreamer” captures the hopes and aspirations of these young people who grew up in the US, consider it their home, and dream of building a future there but face legal barriers due to their undocumented status. They often know no other country and see the US as their own.
  4. Alternative terms: For US-born children of immigrants who aren’t undocumented, terms like “second-generation” or “children of immigrants” are more appropriate.

Therefore, it’s important to distinguish between these terms. Remember, “dreamer” specifically refers to a subset of immigrants facing legal challenges, not all children of immigrants.

I hope this clarifies the origin and meaning of the term “dreamer!”!

What is a 1.5 generation immigrant?

Generally speaking, 1.5 generation means immigrants who moved to the US between 10–15 year old, but there are considerable individual differences. In my case, I moved to the US from Japan in my mid 20s and have been speaking English for about 30 years. I never joined any Japanese group and rarely spoke Japanese.

Now, I see myself as 1.5 generation. It’s true that I still can speak Japanese, but I lost the native level of fluency (Japanese people don’t believe me when I say I’m a family member of a Japanese person). In Japan, that means that I lost my in group status.

In the US, I’m a US citizen now. I am a patriotic American and working hard as an American. This is my home and the only one place to return to.

Some Asian Americans say things like “becoming a US citizen doesn’t change my skin color”. The other side of the coin is that it’s so easy to lose in group status in east Asian countries. Even if you look Japanese and know their culture, just a little bit of foreign access makes you a suspicious foreigner just like what happened to me.

Why do some people in the U.S. think that the children of immigrants aren’t authentic Americans (e.g., refer to them as “second generation immigrants”)?

I’ve never heard of anyone in the US who claimed that someone was not an “authentic” American because their parents or grandparents were immigrants, or even that they were naturalized immigrants themselves, but I suspect there are a few people somewhere who are crazy enough to claim anything.


In the United States, the terms “first-generation immigrant” and “second-generation immigrant” are used to describe different stages in families’ immigration journeys. Here’s a breakdown:

First-generation immigrants:

  • Definition: These are individuals who were born outside the United States and later immigrated to the country. They may have become naturalized citizens, permanent residents, or even be undocumented.
  • Experiences: First-generation immigrants often face challenges adapting to a new culture, language, and way of life. They may navigate unfamiliar social norms, educational systems, and job markets. Many also maintain strong ties to their countries of origin and cultural heritage.

Second-generation immigrants:

  • Definition: There are two main ways to define second-generation immigrants:
    • US Census Bureau definition: This definition considers individuals born in the United States to at least one immigrant parent as second-generation. They may experience cultural influences from both their parents’ heritage and American society.
    • Sociological definition: In a broader sense, some consider second-generation to encompass anyone raised in a household where the primary language spoken is not English, regardless of their birthplace. This definition highlights the cultural and linguistic differences these individuals navigate.

Do second-generation immigrants exist?

  • Yes, both definitions of second-generation immigrants exist and represent significant populations in the United States. The US Census Bureau estimates that over 44 million people in the US identify as second-generation as of 2020.

What are they called?

  • There’s no single universally accepted term for second-generation immigrants. Some common terms include:
    • Second-generation
    • Children of immigrants
    • Heritage Americans
    • Bicultural
    • Transnational

Ultimately, the preferred term often depends on the individual’s identity and experiences within their specific cultural context.


  • These terms are complex and can have different meanings depending on who you ask.
  • It’s important to be respectful of individual preferences and avoid making generalizations about any group of people.

I hope this clarifies the definitions and nuances surrounding first-generation and second-generation immigrants in the United States!

What is the definition of a first-generation immigrant in America?

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