Immigration Policy Threatens Senior Care

Immagration

By Vance Parker, Attorney at Law

On May 4 Kristjen M. Nielson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, announced the termination of the Temporary Protected Status program (also known as TPS) for Hondurans, and is delaying the effective date for 18 months, until Jan. 5, 2020.

TPS was created by Congress in 1990 to help people from other countries that are suffering from civil conflict or natural disasters in order to protect human lives. TPS holders undergo a criminal background check every 18 months.

This announcement is one of many similar decisions by Nielsen to end TPS for almost 200,000 Salvadorans, 50,000 Haitians, 9,000 Nepalis as well as smaller numbers of Nicaraguans and Sudanese, arguing they’ve outlived their need to stay in the U.S.

“What people don’t seem to understand is that people from other countries really are the backbone of long-term care,” said Sister Jacquelyn McCarthy, CEO of Bethany Health Care Center in Framingham, Mass. “There aren’t people to replace them if they should all be deported.”

In my own South Texas family, a remarkable and much-loved Hispanic immigrant named Julia practically raised my mother and my special-needs aunt while cooking and supporting my busy physician grandfather’s (and grandmother’s) household for 60 years. Similar stories have been repeated many times, in many American households, frequently with respect to caregiving for seniors.

According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute in New York, close to one million immigrants work in direct care as certified nurse assistants (CNAs), personal-care attendants or home health aides. They provide daily care, transportation and companionship for the aging within our communities. Turnover is typically high in these positions because of the difficult work and low wages, as well as the physical and emotional stress involved. This is not a job many Americans choose to do. The median wage for personal-care attendants and home health aides is $10.66 per hour, $12.78 per hour for CNAs.

With baby boomers getting older, our country is already facing a shortage within these caregiving vocations, and the gap is predicted to grow further still because of recent changes in federal immigration policies. The U.S. Census Bureau is predicting that, by the year 2035, senior citizens will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. Who will care for these seniors?

Should the demand for care workers exceed the supply, insurance agencies may have to restrict the number of hours of care that people receive, increasing wages and driving up costs. All of these problems threaten our seniors’ preferred ability to age in place, in their own homes.

Immigration policy must not be a black-or-white debate. Details matter. No one can respectably argue that seniors should suffer because of politicians who refuse to acknowledge how policy details actually affect their constituents’ lives.

It’s often not easy to be an aging senior. Government works best when our lawmakers understand the needs and opinions of their constituents. Because our seniors’ rights are worth fighting for, be sure to let your elected officials know how the potential loss of immigrant caregivers may affect you or someone whom you love or care about.

Vance Parker, JD, MBA, is a local elder law attorney with Vance Parker Law, PLLC. For more information, visit VParkerlaw.com.

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