When I was a young girl, I learned that only American Indians were native to this country. Everyone else had origins in another country.
My understanding was I was German Irish, underscored when my mother occasionally emphasizing a point with “Versteh?” – German for “Understand?”
It was only much later I learned my maternal ancestral village was really in Switzerland. My surname, Biasell, had at one point been Biaselli – the extra “i” and pronunciation reflecting its Italian origin – in addition to my father’s Irish and German roots. Guess that makes me typical American, and proud of it.
Like many whose families have been in the U.S for multiple generations, immigration was not top of mind for me, until recently. Now I’m very interested.
In addition to the news and humanitarian crisis at the border, trends in the field of aging bring immigration front and center. How so?
The United States is in the same boat as most of the world’s developed countries with unprecedented numbers of citizens living to advanced ages, a global aging phenomenon.
There’s already a worker shortage for people to provide the hands-on care needed by elders, special needs children and other populations. Demand will only rise, dramatically.
Often called the direct care workforce, whether in nursing homes, assisted living apartments or private homes, this group helps with daily functions like dressing, bathing, cooking and errands.
It’s not just longevity that created the demand, it’s also changing patterns in family dynamics affecting the ability to provide care.
For example, family size has decreased, leaving less adult children to help. Increasing numbers of couples choose to be childless. Rising divorce rates change family support patterns. And, more middle-aged or older women who used to provide much of the care are now staying in the workforce, either for financial need or planned career paths.
What’s this have to do with immigration? In the U.S., between 20 and 25 percent of the direct care workforce is migrants.
The LeadingAge Center for Applied Research in Washington, D.C., points out, “One major solution to a lack of direct care workers is to recruit and rely upon foreign-born or migrant workers to ameliorate the gap.”
They note “... the wage differentials between the destination and origin countries represent a strong incentive for migrants ...” While for the destination country, “staff costs can be kept relatively low,” which is “... particularly appealing to families hiring workers on the private market.”
Developed countries in Europe and around the globe are quickly seeing the win-win possibilities of this strategy. A number have created “managed migration schemes” to recruit, organize and train migrants.
Focus on language, culture, work skills and protections are addressed. An example is Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program. The program allows admission based on fulfillment of set criteria before and after admission, and is viewed as highly successful.
This is an exciting proposition in the field of aging – and heightens interest in efficient processing of admission in our immigration policies. While we certainly don’t want criminals, we want and need people who want to work, and their families.
Syracruse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, offers “comprehensive, independent and nonpartisan information about U.S. federal immigration enforcement.”
It points out that “custodial arrests” relate to people with previous arrest or detainment by law enforcement. “Community arrests” on the other hand, occur when someone is believed deportable.
A recent report pointed out concerning discrepancies in how states approach and determine arrest, using community arrests as reason to deport any and all, versus using community arrests for professional judgement on who might be criminal.
Reports of long-term immigrants who have lived in the States for decades as workers with no criminal history being targeted for deportation are disturbing. We need to help people become legal citizens if they aren’t, not deport good workers.
Our immigrant history is rich. It needs to thrive into the future for all our sake.
Lynn Kellogg is CEO of Region IV Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Michigan. Questions on age or independence services? Call the Info-Line for Aging & Disability at 800-654-2810 or visit www.areaagencyonaging.org. The Generations column appears each Sunday in The Herald-Palladium.