Anti-immigrant rhetoric has reached an all-time high during the midterm election season, and now that the 2024 presidential election is gaining momentum, it is urgent to note how it is fueling violence against communities in immigrants and creates a deterrent effect.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott continues to ferry immigrants to Texas sanctuary cities, including newcomers to Philadelphia, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis defends his practice of sending immigrants to Washington, DC, and elsewhere, it is clear that anti-immigrant rhetoric has an impact on the lives and well-being of immigrants.
Research shows that this rhetoric affects health, preventing immigrants from seeking health care benefits and further isolating them. What is clearly missing are the voices of immigrants themselves and respect for the humanity and decency of the treatment of immigrants, particularly in relation to their access to health care and their outcomes.
The United States has an estimated population of 11 million undocumented people, more than half of whom are between the ages of 25 and 44. And while only 9% of the undocumented population is over the age of 55, a large percentage of this population will continue to age into retirement age over the next decade.
Nationally, a recent study reports that the population of undocumented Latinx older adults in the United States will increase by nearly 700%. The Migration Policy Institute reports that Mexico is the top source country for undocumented migrants of all ages at 48%, with El Salvador and Guatemala at 7%, India at 5% and Honduras at 4%.
According to a 2020 study by Rush University Medical Center, the population of undocumented seniors in the state of Illinois will increase more than 13-fold by 2030 to more than 55,000.
Although undocumented people from Mexico make up the largest population of undocumented older adults, according to the Rush study, the next highest populations come from Eastern Europe, East Asia and the Middle East. Southeast and Africa.
I witnessed firsthand the difficult process of accessing healthcare for migrants while earning a Masters in Social Work at Loyola University Chicago in May 2014. I have worked with clients throughout the migration cycle through internships at Heartland Alliance, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and the former Loyola Center for Migration and International Social Work.
In migrant shelters across Mexico, some were living as undocumented in the United States and deported to Mexico, others were in transit north. Some shelters housed hundreds of migrants, others less. Mexico City’s smallest shelter housed ten migrants who had suffered extreme trauma or violence and needed a smaller, supportive environment to heal, physically and emotionally.
I have found that once in the United States, many immigrants do not have access to the health care they need. This reality reinforces the results of a new study which shows that immigrants contribute much more to the health care system than they take out of it.
Undocumented immigrants are an important and vital part of the American workforce, and millions of other jobs and the livelihoods of all Americans depend on this workforce. According to the Center for American Progress, more than 7 million undocumented people work in the United States in all fields.
Many undocumented migrants work in farms, construction, maintenance and factory work. They are also a significant part of the care economy – including childcare workers, care aides and home health aides – in addition to people working in the formal economy through work permits provided by DACA, including doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers and business owners. Almost half of DACA’s 1.2 million beneficiaries are essential workers, of whom nearly 62,000 are essential healthcare workers.
Undocumented people lack access to many services that older people typically depend on to age well in their homes and communities, such as home and community care such as home health and aide services homemaking, social assistance, home modification, nutrition. programs and subsidized housing.
It is estimated that two-thirds of the undocumented population and an even larger portion of undocumented seniors have resided in the United States for decades and are aging into retirement age. Many of these seniors have worked for decades, with some facing abuse and poverty wages by companies that exploit immigrants for cheap labor. And now, without a safety net, they face a potentially bleak future.
If and when their health fails, many do not have access to the resources to stay outside the hospital. For example, in Illinois, even with the extension of health care to undocumented people through the Health Benefits for Immigrant Seniors and Health Benefits for Immigrant Adults plans, these services are not covered by those plans.
Undocumented older people are blocked from public benefits and most public insurance plans (which block access to services covered by insurance), including acute care needs like hospitalizations and home care of retirement.
The states of Illinois, California, and Oregon have made progress in expanding access to health care, but even these programs fail to fully address the complexities of elder care services.
Policymakers, administrators, nonprofit leaders, and funders must take decisive action to honor the humanity in everyone. There is a need to treat all people, regardless of their immigration status, with compassion and to affirm their right to age well within their communities and families.
Padraic Stanley is a social worker.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com
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