Immigrants Care for Older Americans, Including Me

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I’m in a rehab hospital where immigrant eldercare dominates.

The “rehab” part is code for “nursing home,” and since I just had my right ankle replaced with a shiny new one, I quality for short-term assistance.

From here in New York City to the small cities across America, immigrants increasingly watch over the oldest and most frail among us.

  • My patient-care assistant tonight is Comfort. She’s from Ghana.
  • My nurse is from Ukraine. “Well,” she said, “It’s called Ukraine now, but it’s been lots of things.”
  • The young Chinese-American doctor assigned to my floor said she chose to specialize in geriatrics. “I grew up in a multi-generational household and have known for a long time where I wanted to be.”
  • Yesterday’s physical therapist is from Argentina, and the other one I’ve seen swings back and forth between English and her native Spanish as she greets people on the rehab floor.
  • A smart OT I work with, has an almost undetectable accent, but one that reminds me that everyone I’m meeting has a story that includes why they uprooted and moved.

The care I’m receiving is good and feels genuinely easy for these women to offer.

And that, alone, makes it easier to receive.

Immigrant eldercare rapidly increasing

A February 2018 New York Times article says that one in four nursing home workers is foreign born, and between 2005 and 2015, the number of immigrants who work for themselves in state-funded, elder home care programs doubled to more than a million.

In New York, California, New Jersey and Florida, more than 40% of direct-care workers are immigrants.

And who knows how many immigrants are hired privately to care for the elderly.

Her accent reminds me that everyone I’m meeting has a story that include why they uprooted and moved.

I feel safe

Earlier today my patient-care assistant, Wilma, entered the room smiling as she finished a conversation with a fellow worker.

When I asked about the language they were speaking she said, “We’re both from Haiti, and that was Creole.”

“Now,” she said, turning her attention fully to me, “Let’s get you to the bathroom. You’re doing so well.”

And isn’t that encouragement the elixir everyone needs for healing?

Right now I hear laughing in the halls – the life-is-good sort that sounds like a choice to look through the viewfinder of optimism.

Surrounded by immigrants I feel safe, comfortable, and a bother to no one.

I wonder how they feel.

Take Action!

Read Paula Span’s New York Times article, “If immigrants are pushed out, who will care for the elderly?”

See Carolyn Rosenblatt’s Forbes article, “Aging parents, immigrants and the caregiving cliff.”

Read Ted Hessen’s Politico article, “Why baby boomers need immigrants.”

Check out this post about immigrants in Maine.

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Ellen is a mother, wife, trainer, RCST, writer and reader. She now adds to that list — new ankle explorer. You can reach her at:

“Remember that justice is what love looks like in public.” – Cornel West

Refugees Resettled in Maine Give Me Hope

Deo, Uber driver in Portland, Maine by way of Tanzania and Burundi.

While visiting my home state of Maine I used Uber to get around Portland

During one trip the driver, Deo, and I started talking.

He has lived in Maine for 10 years.

And he is an immigrant from Burundi, one of the poorest countries in Africa.

In 1993 the first democratically-elected President came to power there.

Voter turnout was 97%.

Later that year the President was assassinated, and civil war erupted.

After two of Deo’s children died the same year, he walked 600 miles to Tanzania.

For the next decade he called two Tanzanian refugee camps home while assistance from the United Nations helped secure his asylum in the United States.

In 2008 he relocated to Maine after a short stay in Iowa.

Maine Used to Champion Refugees

For close to a decade Maine championed refugees, and whether that is because its population is rapidly aging and attracting younger workers was strategically smart or if it was a humanitarian gesture, I can’t say.

Either way, it was a powerfully good thing.

And unlike Wyoming, Maine had a plan to assist people in need.

But as of January 2018, an amended Act curtained Maine’s participation in what remains of the federally-funded refugee resettlement program.

In truth, since the U.S. presidential election of 2016, refugee resettlement in Maine and elsewhere has all but ended.

Between October 1, 2017 and March 15, 2018, 91% fewer refugees came to Maine.

That’s 21 arrivals versus 229 in the same period the previous year.

Yet for Deo, life here is good.

He works in Portland and belongs to a supportive community that both sees and believes in his worth.

I’m encouraged

After all he has witnessed and experienced, he reports being treated fairly and with respect in the whitest state in the country.

And his reflection on Maine matters to me; I want to live where human life is valued and compassionate acts are not only tolerated but are sanctioned.

•  •

Deo’s Uber profile shows he has a 4.86 overall rating with almost all evaluations being perfect 5-stars.

He says on the Uber app, “I am honest and take care of people.

“I love gospel music.

“I am filling [feeling] nice when I give people rides.”

Take Action!

•  Read about the Wyoming student who wrote a refugee resettlement plan for the only state without one.

•  Listen to Maine Public Radio, The Year the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Unraveled, by Deborah Amos, Jan 1, 2018.

•  •  •

Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is She is a Registered Craniosacral Therapist (RCST), is on the Board of Directors of the Biodynamic Craniosacral Association of North America (BCTA/NA), and is a practitioner of both HeartMath and The Connection Practice.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West


Wyoming Refugee Resettlement Plan Written by University Student for Only State Without One

“. . . Wyoming is the single state in the U.S. without a Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP) filed with the federal government.”

Gabe Selting wrote his senior honors thesis as a “How To” plan for Wyoming to initiate a Refugee Resettlement Plan.

So begins Gabe Selting’s 2018 honors senior thesis from the University of Wyoming, “Refugee Resettlement in Wyoming: A How-to Guide.”

Selting says social justice addresses “equal access to opportunity.”

Yet his own interests are broader.

They extend to equal access to opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers.

And this fall his already passionate life takes a step forward as he begins law school in Washington, DC.

His interest in social justice and service began when he was 16 years old.

He was living in London with time on his hands while his parents, both professors at the University of Wyoming, were on sabattical.

During this time he thought, and he struggled.

“The ultimate question was, ‘What is my personal interpretation of happiness, and how can I get there?’”

The answer came as a question.

“What is my ability to impact others in a meaningful way? How can I have a positive impact?”

Resettlement Plan Began with Education

As an International Studies undergraduate, Selting expanded his lens on the world.

He studied and volunteered in multiple countries.

And those experiences gave him perspective on Wyoming’s role in global issues.

As well as Wyoming’s role in the refugee conversation.

“All around Wyoming there’s affordable housing, low-skill jobs, and open spaces so you’re not forced to live next to others’ religions, if you don’t want to,” he said.

“By not having a Refugee Resettlement Plan, what message are we sending to Washington and to the United Nation’s High Commission on Refugees?

“It takes 50 links to make this work,” he said. “and one doesn’t exist – Wyoming.”

The website of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is clear.

Refugees are given, “the opportunity to achieve their full potential . . .”

The U.S. Government along with individual states and organizations offer a hand up with “critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society.”

“It takes 50 links to make this work, and one doesn’t exist — Wyoming.”

Refugees are Free to Move Into Wyoming

Because there are no cross-state entry restrictions, once refugees have been permitted to enter the country, Selting says they can go where they like.

“Former refugees are making their way to Wyoming, whether people like it or not.”

Yet without a RRP Selting says, “those who arrive here don’t have access to key services.”

Selting thinks that state’s resistance stems from fears for safety and economic security.

“It’s so much more dangerous to not have a refugee infrastructure program then to have one,” he said.

“There’s a huge body of literature showing that extremism often comes in the form of social and economic alienation.

“We need to have systems for people to integrate into; to combat social isolation.

“Wyoming has the capacity to help and accept refugees,” he said.

And thanks to this recent grad’s persistence, Wyoming’s “How To” is ready to go.

Take Action!

•  Read Gabe’s thesis, Refugee Resettlement in Wyoming: A How-To Guide.

•  Learn about the Immigration Alliance of Casper.

•  Check out the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

•  Read Gillette Against Hate. 

•  Read Where refugees go in America,” from the Washington Post.

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Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West


Bright pink states are the worst for welcoming refugees. Bright green are the best.