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Let’s Remember To Recognize the Essential Work of Immigrants On National Caregivers Day

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National Caregivers Day, observed on February 16, wouldn’t be complete without recognizing and honoring the contributions of immigrant workers who help provide critical services and companionship to our loved ones. It’s necessary to note the contributions of immigrant caregivers, considering the “outsized role” they play in caring for seniors and people with disabilities, Immigration Impact noted last year.

“In 2019, 36.5% of all home health aides in the United States were immigrants, a rate that was twice their share of the U.S. workforce overall (17.1%),” Karen Aho wrote at Immigration Impact last year. “This includes undocumented workers, who made up an estimated 6.9% of home health aides and 4.4% of personal care aides.” 

In states like New York, immigrant workers represent more than half of home health aides, according to data from Moms Rising. In nearby New Jersey, 49% of caregivers are immigrants. In Florida, nearly 45% are immigrants. In Arizona, about a quarter are immigrants. Among these Arizona workers is Marlene Carrasco, an immigrant originally from Mexico. Marlene first worked as a housekeeper before becoming a caregiver. She has more than three decades of experience caring for seniors and others. 

“On a recent Wednesday, Carrasco, 52, spent the afternoon with one of her clients, Carmen Garcia, an 85-year-old with short, graying hair,” Arizona Republic reported in December. Wednesdays are busy for Garcia’s son, Gabe, the liturgical music director at a local church. While he’s rehearsing for Sunday services, Marlene helps care for Carmen, including preparing meals, playing lotería or dominoes, and doing some light exercises. 

It’s also some important peace of mind for Gabe while he’s away at work. “Without Carrasco’s help, his aging mother would be home alone all day,” Arizona Republic continued.

Immigrants holding Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) relief are also significant contributors to the elder care, home care, and healthcare industries, representing more than 45,000 of these workers as of 2022. “Not surprisingly, the states with the most TPS holders are also home to the largest numbers of TPS holders in health care occupations: Florida (2,900), California (2,700), and New York (2,100), for example, are all home to sizable numbers of these frontline health workers,” Tom Jawetz and Nicole Prchal Svajlenka wrote at the Center for American Progress in 2020.

Besides providing care and support to our loved ones, immigrants also play a significant  role in boosting our economy and filling critical labor shortages. The U.S. has been facing a significant labor shortage that, combined with an aging worker population, was concerning before the novel coronavirus pandemic hit.

“The United States will need to fill nearly three-quarters of a million open jobs for home health and personal care aides every year through 2031,” Immigration Impact said. “The home health care labor shortage will most affect states with large populations such as California, New York, and Texas, but also rural areas that are already experiencing a shortage of health care workers,” the National Immigration Forum’s Dan Kosten wrote in a 2021 report. “Currently, the states most impacted by the shortages include Washington State, Alabama, and Montana.”

“Significant numbers of immigrants already work in this sector,” Kosten concluded, “but if provided the opportunity, they could have a critical role in helping the United States address future shortages in home health care occupations.”

During a 2022 hearing, Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) highlighted immigrants’ crucial role in addressing these shortages. “We know immigrant health care workers can help to fill this gap and provide critical care to so many communities in need,” Padilla said. “How? Because, in large part, they already are.” Padilla also noted that there are many “highly qualified health care professionals living abroad with dreams of coming to America to study, train in their profession, and ultimately save lives.” However, many remain hindered by an outdated immigration system.

On the ground, advocates have been working to equip immigrants and refugees with the training they need to become professional caregivers, SEIU 775 Benefits Group’s Jee Kim wrote at AAPI media outlet International Examiner earlier this month. Training sessions are available in up to sixteen languages, ensuring that participants receive language-accessible care, especially older adults.

“For my own family, access to a Korean language study guide and drivers’ exam were an economic game-changer as new immigrants in Washington State,” Kim wrote. “As our state’s need for in-home care for our aging population quickly grows, how much more so is the accessible, in-language professional training for one of our most in-demand professions.”

Caregiving is “very beautiful work,” Marlene told Arizona Republic. The report notes that before leaving the Garcia household at the end of the work day, she prepared a decaf coffee and pastry for Carmen. “Thank you,” Carmen told Marlene as she was headed out the front door. To Marlene and thousands of other caregivers in Arizona and around the country, we echo Carmen’s words on this National Caregivers Day: thank you.