How Ending DACA Could Shrink the Caregiver Labor Pool

President Donald Trump’s plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy could reduce the number of workers available to the home health care industry during an already worrying caregiver shortage.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on September 5 that the administration will end the Obama-era program that protects about 800,000 adults—usually referred to as “Dreamers,” after a proposed law that was not passed—from deportation. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is no longer accepting new applications for the program, and those looking to renew their DACA status for a final extension are scrambling to meet the October 5 deadline.

The announcement comes on the heels of other Trump administration efforts to curb immigration and reduce the number of jobs going to foreign-born workers. It also comes at a time when the home health industry is in dire need of new caregivers.

Weakening the system

Ending DACA could potentially affect the entire home health care industry, says Stephan Lowy, founder and CEO of ArloCare, a home health care provider based in Union, New Jersey. About one quarter of direct care workers and 28% of home health aides are immigrants, according to research released in June by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), a New York City-based nonprofit that works to improve services for older adults.

“Since there is already a serious shortage of health care workers in the U.S., deporting Dreamers would certainly weaken the system,” Lowy tells Home Health Care News.

To help solve that shortage, Lowy suggests the federal government offer undocumented workers a reasonable six-month path to citizenship. That way, people who might otherwise face deportation can stay in the workforce while they apply to stay permanently.

“Any illegal immigrant currently in the U.S. has two years to become a citizen,” he says, describing his suggested plan. “After two years, if you have not complied, you will be deported.”

Though the effects of ending DACA are hard to predict, many others throughout the home health care, skilled nursing and senior living industries oppose any move that would further constrain the available workforce.

“My first reaction is that anything that reduces the number of potential caregivers cannot be good for us,” Fred Benjamin, president of Lexington Health Network’s skilled nursing division, tells HHCN.

Lombard, Illinois-based Lexington Health offers in-home care throughout the state of Illinois and has 13 senior care communities and skilled nursing facilities.

“The health care workforce in general is a very multinational kind of workforce,” Benjamin adds. “As a result of that, my expectation is that [ending DACA] would decrease the available number of people to work in our facilities and in health care employment in general.”

In the end, anything that trims the immigrant workforce is likely to be problematic to the health care space, Lynne Katzmann, president and CEO of Bloomfield, New Jersey-based Juniper Communities, tells HHCN.

And many first-generation immigrants—including Dreamers—are dedicated, hard workers, Katzmann notes.

“They form a critical part of our community teams,” Katzmann says. “Without them, the labor shortage we all face will only worsen.”

In some markets, big providers have beefed up their outreach efforts to attract more Spanish-speaking caregivers.

Written by Tim Regan

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