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Immigrants - Family Ties

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Because of their limited economic resources, people who immigrate in old age usually depend on their children for support. Beginning in December 1997, new immigration rules reinforced family support obligations. Not only must the household income of those sponsoring a family member's immigration be at least 125 percent of the poverty line, but also the required affidavit of support is now a legally enforceable contract. Shared housing is one way for kin to support elderly immigrants. In contrast to the intimacy at a distance that characterizes native-born seniors, elderly immigrants are apt to live with offspring rather than independently. Coresidence may benefit the younger generation as much as, or more than, the older generation, because the older immigrant often assumes responsibility for childcare and housekeeping in a child's home.

Some parents are, in fact, invited to immigrate by their grown children so that they can help out around the house. Cultural expectations for family togetherness and kin eldercare may also dictate that aging parents and grown children live in close proximity. Immigrant families are more likely than native-born Americans to rely on family care of the dependent aged, as opposed to formal means of support. Hispanic and Asian immigrants age sixty and older are even more likely than older, non-Hispanic white immigrants to reside with other family members. This relation is independent of economic resources, English-language fluency, and disability.

Although older immigrants maintain close family ties, their adjustment to life in the United States can be slow, and is sometimes painful. Older people who are recent immigrants are at particular risk of depression. Age-related cognitive and physical limitations (e.g., mobility restrictions) can impede assimilation and acculturation. Structural aspects of the life course also contribute to elderly isolation. Unlike younger people, older immigrants are not exposed to the English language or to American customs in the school and workplace. Ethnic communities, where older immigrants can interact with other elderly people from their native land, can offer a comfortable accommodation for those who immigrate late in life. A growing number of older immigrants require specialized social service programs to address their particular needs in a culturally appropriate manner.



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