As Trump Targets Immigrants, Elderly Brace To Lose Caregivers
Nationwide, 1 million immigrants work in direct care - as CNAs, personal care attendants or home health aides - according to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute
This article first appeared March 26, 2018 on Kaiser Health News.
BOSTON — After back-to-back, eight-hour shifts at a chiropractor's office and a rehab center, Nirva arrived outside an elderly woman's house just in time to help her up the front steps.
Nirva took the woman’s arm as she hoisted herself up, one step at a time, taking breaks to ease the pain in her hip. At the top, they stopped for a hug.
"Hello, bella," Nirva said, using the word for "beautiful" in Italian.
"Hi, baby," replied Isolina Dicenso, the 96-year-old woman she has helped care for for seven years.
The women each bear accents from their homelands: Nirva, who asked that her full name be withheld, fled here from Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Dicenso moved here from Italy in 1949. Over the years, Nirva, 46, has helped her live independently, giving her showers, changing her clothes, washing her windows, taking her to her favorite parks and discount grocery stores.
Now Dicenso and other people living with disabilities, serious illness and the frailty of old age are bracing to lose caregivers like Nirva due to changes in federal immigration policy.
Nirva is one of about 59,000 Haitians living in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a humanitarian program that gave them permission to work and live here after the January 2010 earthquake devastated their country. Many work in health care, often in grueling, low-wage jobs as nursing assistants or home health aides.
Now these workers' days are numbered: The Trump administration decided to end TPS for Haitians, giving them until July 22, 2019, to leave the country or face deportation.
In Boston, the city with the nation's third-highest Haitian population, the decision has prompted panic from TPS holders and pleas from health care agencies that rely on their labor. The fallout offers a glimpse into how changes in immigration policy are affecting older Americans in communities around the country, especially in large cities.