By Hilary Stern, Executive Director of Casa Latina & a PSARA member
Every day, hundreds of thousands of undocumented women go to work in homes across the country, caring for children, parents and grandparents; they clean, wash, teach, support and cook. Some live in their employers’ homes. Others commute long distances to work. They do the work that makes all other work possible.
And they are part of a global pattern of migration across borders in search of work and a better life for their families.
Domestic workers have faced generations of exclusion from basic labor protections. Isolated in the workplace, they are among the most invisible and vulnerable workers in the workforce today. As a result of our current immigration laws, many are trapped in undocumented status without a roadmap to citizenship.
Now for the first time in twenty years, we have the opportunity to change that with a comprehensive immigration bill that brings people out of the shadows and meets our future labor needs.
The Caring Across Generations campaign, of which PSARA is a member, is a broad coalition of consumer and employer groups, unions, women’s and worker groups that has a shared interest in a stronger care workforce. We support a comprehensive approach to win citizenship for people that are here. We also support revising the visa program to meet our future labor needs, including our increasing need for caregivers for our aging population.
Presently, a mostly immigrant workforce provides care for 12 million aging and disabled Americans. By 2050 the number of Americans who need care will grow to 27 million. Any immigration legislation should include protections and access to citizenship for domestic and care workers who are helping to fill an urgent and important labor shortage—including a road to citizenship for workers who are currently present in the country and all those who may come in the future.
Legislative proposals are being debated. We need to be vigilant and pay attention to the details. For example, eligibility for legalization should not depend on proving continuous employment. Having to prove continuous employment will exclude many if not most domestic and care workers from a legalization program. Care workers often have gaps in their employment history when their clients die or when they need to piece together informal arrangements with a variety of families. Basing eligibility solely on employment history would also exclude elderly and disabled relatives who are living with immigrant families.
Other priorities include making sure that the fees are affordable, that there is a variety of documentation that can be used to prove presence, that English language requirements are not impossible obstacles and that the Affordable Care Act includes aging and disabled immigrants.
Legislation is moved forward by compelling stories of real people. If you know someone who is an undocumented caregiver that cares for a loved one, tell us your story. Help us put a human face on this issue and pass an immigration reform that strengthens our ability to care for each other.