I came to the United States as an asylum seeker from sub-Saharan Africa. As memories of the violence I fled fade, I am proud I have been able to embrace my new life working at a nonprofit to promote public health. I am filling a critical labor gap and showing why Maine’s more than 50,600 foreign-born residents are critical to this state’s economy.
So I am especially troubled by the Trump administration’s recent efforts to make it more difficult to seek asylum in the U.S. In December, the Trump administration announced plans to appeal a federal court ruling that upheld this country’s long-standing asylum rules allowing individuals to file for asylum on the basis of gang and domestic violence. New data from Syracuse University shows judges have steadily increased their denial of asylum applications during the past six years. Of the 42,224 people of all nationalities, 65 percent were denied the status in 2018, up from 42 percent in 2012; however, that number has jumped most significantly in past two years. And just last month, the administration implemented another policy that sends asylum seekers who pass through the southern border back to Mexico to await their court date, rather than allowing them to remain in the U.S., as had previously been protocol.
America has long been known as a nation of immigrants and the land of opportunity. As the leader of the free world, it also has a moral obligation to welcome those who are fleeing persecution. And like all immigrants, we are eager to give back to our new communities. Let me explain why that’s important for Maine
We all know that Maine boasts the oldest population in the entire country, yet our state is facing a serious shortage of health care workers. There are 25 health care jobs for every unemployed health care worker, according to data from New American Economy.
A 2016 Maine Department of Labor report estimated at least 2,300 additional health care workers would be needed to staff hospitals, and an additional 1,900 workers for nursing and residential care facilities through 2024. Immigrants such as myself are vital to filling this gap; already, we are twice as likely to fill lesser skilled home health aide positions than U.S.-born citizens, according to NAE, enabling seniors to get the care they need at home rather than moving into a nursing home.
Nationally, the health care industry is also in dire need of qualified workers, with 4.4 health care jobs advertised online for every unemployed healthcare worker in 2013, according to NAE. Recent estimates indicate that by 2030, 20.3 percent of the U.S. population will be older than age 65 — up from 12.4 percent in 2000. That will only increase the burden on the health care work force, here and nationwide.
Nearly 30 percent of the Sub-Saharan Africans in the American work force in 2015 held jobs within the health care industry, compared to 13 percent of the U.S.-born working population, and I have since joined them. Today, I am the health promotion coordinator at Healthy Androscoggin, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public health for all Mainers, both foreign- and U.S.-born. In my native country, I was a lawyer and I hope to eventually combine my areas of expertise as a practicing medical attorney.
My story is not unique. Whether immigrants come to this country as asylum seekers or through work or educational visas, many of us are educated with significant professional experience. In Maine, 21.6 percent of the immigrant population has a bachelor’s degree, compared to 19.1 percent of Americans who live here. And we put our education to use, accounting for a key segment of the work force in fields such as higher education and family and individual services, in addition to hospital jobs. That has enabled us to pay $363.1 million in state, local and federal taxes, and hold $992.3 million in spending power to invest back into our local communities, like Lewiston.
I am proof that immigrants serve as a much-needed solution to the demographic and work force challenges this country faces. As the new congressional session tackles its first pieces of legislation, elected officials need to realize that immigrants are our friends, not our foes.
Heritier Nosso is the health promotion coordinator at Healthy Androscoggin in Lewiston.