Impoverished Immigrant Seniors
A Legacy of Failed Reform According to estimates, there are 850,000 undocumented immigrants over the age of 55. 150,000 are over 65. Overall, this is a small portion of the million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. But the number of elderly without legal status will grow as they follow the Baby Boom generation into retirement age.
Living in the shadows, undocumented immigrants are twice as likely as the general population to live in poverty. Most elderly immigrants without documents have not amassed savings. They are among society’s most impoverished people. To survive, many are left with little choice but to keep working low-wage, often physically demanding jobs. Street vending, cleaning houses or working as home caregivers for the rest of their lives.
Immigrant’s seniors are not a drain on public services. Critics assert older immigrants are an economic drain. In reality, the opposite is far more accurate. Most undocumented seniors have long lived in the shadows under the appearance of legality.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, during the amnesty and legalization programs, it was not uncommon for immigrants to be granted a valid immigration number, driver’s license, and social security card while their cases were pending. Most have paid taxes but never collected their refunds. Several were denied green card status on a technicality, causing their eligibility to vanish in the black hole of immigration bureaucracy.
Compassion and Reform Missing in Action
Immigrant’s seniors are unable to claim their contributions to the nation’s Medicare and social security systems. Forced to hide their status, several have been subjected to the decade of exploitative practices by employers well aware of their situation. Many have no way to return home and due to their long residency in the United States, some have no family living abroad any longer. That such action is not forthcoming for such a vulnerable segment of our society speaks far louder than their empty promises about fixing our broken immigration system.