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In this study we take advantage of a new and unique longitudinal data set to examine first, the consequences of the age at which older Mexican-origin individuals immigrated to the United States on changes in their living arrangements over a two-year period, and second, the predictors of their household headship status at the end of that period. We address the following two questions: (1) Are elderly Mexican immigrants who came to the United States when they were 50 or older more likely to move in with others during the two-year follow-up period, especially when they suffer functional impairments, than the native-born or those who migrated earlier in life, and (2) are older immigrants who live with others, especially when they suffer functional impairments, less likely to be the head of the household?
We assume that those individuals who live with their families, but who are not the head of the household, are more dependent on their families than those who are the head of the household. Older individuals who move in with children are, on average, older and sicker, and have fewer resources than those who remain in their own household (Angel and Angel, 1997). They are also more likely to be older immigrants who come with few resources and who are particularly dependent on their sponsors. These older individuals and their families are likely to be most seriously affected by the recent exclusions of even legal immigrants from income and social program eligibility.
Recent Anti-Immigrant Legislation and the Welfare of the Elderly
Historically, our immigration policy has been based on a desire to help families reunite (U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, 1994). Over time, though, United States immigration law has become more restrictive, largely as the result of the fear that immigrants might become dependent on public welfare (Fix and Tumlin, 1998). Current immigration policy places responsibility for the material support of immigrants squarely on their sponsors for an extended period after arrival (Espenshade, Baraka, and Huber, 1997). (1) Our traditional reunification policy reflected our basic belief that the family, including parents, occupies a special status that must be supported. In the current anti-immigrant climate, though, this commitment to the extended family has been brought into question. Today, families that choose to bring aging parents to this country, and especially those families who are themselves new arrivals and who bring aging parents with them, assume the complete responsibility for their older parents' nee ds, with no assurance against serious economic reversals.
Recent changes in immigration law clearly reflect this growing anti-immigrant mood (Wallace, Enriquez-Haass, and Markides, 1998). The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) excluded even legal immigrants from receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or food stamps unless they fell into certain exemption categories (Dunkelberg, 1997). These exclusions were so extreme that Congress relaxed the most extreme in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and allowed those legal immigrants who were receiving SSI prior to August 22, 1996, or those who immigrated legally prior to that date, but who subsequently become disabled, to continue receiving or to qualify for benefits.
Even under these less-restrictive rules, though, older immigrants cannot receive SSI based solely on economic need as can native-born U.S. citizens.
Under the new law, immigrants who arrive after August 22, 1996, are excluded from participation in all federal means-tested benefit programs for a period of five years (Dunkelberg, 1997). This exclusion means that those who sponsor an older immigrant assume a large and potentially burdensome responsibility. For at least five years, family members who wish to bring their aging parents to the United States must provide housing and all of the older person's other needs, even in the case of serious disability. Currently, the law requires that, before a family can bring an older parent into the country, they must certify that they will assume the financial burden for that older parent (U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, 1994). Elderly immigrants, therefore, have nowhere to turn for support but to their sponsors, who are usually their children (Angel and Angel, 1992; Burr and Mutchler, 1992; Wilmoth, DeJong, and Himes, 1997). The responsibility for an older person can place great financial strain on a family, e specially when he or she becomes ill and incapacitated, and the drain on family resources can have negative consequences for the entire family's welfare and social mobility.
The purpose of the following analysis is to extend previous research that has documented the importance of family living arrangements for elderly immigrants. In the following analyses we employ longitudinal data to examine stability and change in the living arrangements of older individuals over a two-year period as a function of their nativity status, their age at immigration, and their functional capacity. We then extend the analysis to examine the effect of nativity status and age at immigration on the probability that an older person will be the head of the household in which he or she resides. In these analyses headship status serves as our proxy for the degree of an older person's dependency. Although this is not a perfect measure, previous research suggests that those older individuals who move in with others do so because of poor health and a lack of personal economic resources (Angel et al., 1996; Burr and Mutchler, 1992; Wilmoth, Dejong, and Himes, 1997; Worobey and Angel, 1990).
Data. The Hispanic Established Population for Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly (H-EPESE) consists of a representative sample of 3,050 Mexican Americans aged 65 and over who reside in five Southwestern states: Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado (Markides et al., 1997). The study is funded by the National Institute on Aging. These data are truly unique since they …