The Hands That Care for Us: How Immigrants Make Our Country Great

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During my father’s rehabilitation for his hip replacement, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the nursing home floor of the senior residence where my parents live, and I’ve had the opportunity to get to know the staff, the tasks they do, and the pressure under which they operate. I also learned who actually does the backbreaking work of taking care of our elders once the professional nurses are done with medicating, bandaging, administering medical orders, and dealing with patient and family concerns.

All one has to do is to spend time in any hospital, rehab center or nursing home to discover just how important immigration is to our country. Our ill and recovering family members wake up in the morning to the faces of immigrants from around the world. Ghana. Trinidad. Haiti. Niger. Sudan. Central and South America. Eastern Europe. These are the smiling faces they see, the various accents they hear, the gentle hands that serve them food help them eat, walk, move from bed to chair and back again, go the toilet, brush their teeth and shower.

I have a new appreciation for the people, here permanently or on temporary papers or with no papers at all, who do this heart-heavy work for little money. They work long hours to improve their lives and give their families a better standard of living in a free country, or, in many cases, to send money home to families abroad so that they can subsist each day. And in the process, they touch many of our families, as well.

Get rid of these people, say conservatives. But when illegal immigrants and those on temporary work visas leave, who will be covering the rehab floor and the nursing home? And what will be the consequences for patients, for our loved ones?

The policy questions on immigration and labor are complex, to be sure — but whatever the answers, they must be rooted in compassion for the human condition that brings people here against tremendous odds. Compassion for those who spend every day of their working lives showing compassion to others.

Above all, we must remember that we are all the descendants of immigrants. It is that rich diversity that has made our country great. Regardless of where we stand on immigration reform, we must recognize that the fabric of our country would be vastly poorer were it not for the loving hands of these individuals who provide care for those we love.