Post by Shannon Erwin, State Policy Director, MIRA Coalition
Baltimore, MD - We are all close to someone in need of special care – an elderly parent, disabled friend or child with special needs. By 2050, nearly 30 million Americans will need some type of long-term home care. Yet, currently there are only 2 million home care workers providing this critical service. Immigrant women of color overwhelmingly make up the majority of home care workers. Our country’s increased demand for home care is inextricably tied to our obligation to treat these workers with dignity and to the urgent need to repair our broken immigration system.
On Sunday evening at NIIC, a panel of advocates showcased a recently launched national campaign called Caring Across Generations. The campaign brings together labor unions with senior, disability and youth organizations and others to respond to our nation’s increasing home care needs and to ensure that both consumers and providers of home care are treated well. Rooted, in the words of Sarita Gupta, Executive Director of Jobs for Justice and Co-Director of Caring Across Generations, on “the values of love, respect and human dignity,” the campaign pursues five goals:
- Create 2 million new, high-quality home care sector jobs.
- Improve the quality of existing as well as newly created home care jobs.
- Establish national training standards and career ladders to advancement for home care workers.
- Create a path by which immigrant care workers can achieve legal status.
- Support families to ensure affordable long-term care services are available for all who need them.
It was impossible not to be moved by the shared stories of immigrant home care workers and those for whom they cared. In a video shown prior to the discussion, an immigrant domestic worker named Maria explained her motivation for her work. She had heard that elderly people in the U.S. spent a lot of time alone, as their sons and daughters rarely live with them. Troubled by this idea, Maria decided to do something about it. She now provides care to elderly Americans and sings to them while she works.
Antonia Peña, a Domestic Worker Organizer with CASA de Maryland and a panelist at the discussion, was brought to the U.S. from Columbia by diplomat employers and has performed care work since age 15. “It is important that we are seen as human beings, not machines, doing this work, and so important that we come together and work together,” she explained in Spanish.
Francisco López, Executive Director of CAUSA, Oregon’s immigrant rights organization and also a panelist, relayed the story of an El Salvadoran immigrant woman who cared for “Tom,” a severely autistic boy. She provided him consistent care and even taught him how to greet other people, while Tom would introduce her to others as his friend. That friendship was disrupted, tragically and most certainly traumatically, when she was deported.
Ai-Jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Co-Director of Caring Across Generations, crystallized what is most inspiring and hopeful about this campaign. It is a movement based on relationships of care and on values we all have in common: our sense of responsibility to our loved ones and elders, and our desire to offer real economic opportunity to the next generation. It is, in her words, “the perfect medicine for all the polarization.”