Nancy Nation: There Is One Job Americans Don't mind Giving Immigrants: Caring for Their Kids.

AuthorHiggins, Maeve

As we stood at the school gates on a well-to-do Brooklyn street, Shelly took a step back and looked at me quizzically. "OK. See, you look like a mom, but you're a nanny?"

Laughing, I told her that, as far I knew, I was not a mom. I was a babysitter, working a couple of afternoons each week to supplement my writing income. I understood her surprise, because I'm white. Shelly is a black Guyanese woman some twenty years my senior, making her a typical nanny in that neighborhood.

Women, disproportionately women of color and immigrants, make up 94 percent of the nations child-care workers. As an immigrant myself, this statistic fascinates me. We live under an administration that depicts immigrants as shiftless, drug-dealing job stealers, yet millions of American parents are happily handing their children--their most precious and gigantic responsibility--over to... immigrants?

I'm Irish and moved to New York City five years ago. Had I come to the United States 150 years ago, I would probably have been a full-time, live-in nanny, not someone who babysits on the side. Between 1820 and 1860, more than one-third of all immigrants to the United States were Irish, and more than 60 percent of Irish women immigrants went into domestic work.

Immigrants arriving today continue to find child care a reliable entry point into the American economy. But that's where the past and present diverge. Second-generation Irish women, and those who came after them, turned away from servitude toward the relative autonomy and higher pay of jobs like teaching, bookkeeping, and nursing. That same mobility is not available to immigrant women today.

Case in point is Naiade Pereira Da Costa, a Brazilian immigrant I found by posting on a parents' forum in Brooklyn. Da Costa first came to the United States in 2012 through the J-1 visa program. She was twenty-six, and like every J-1 applicant had to pass an English proficiency test, demonstrate "binding ties" outside of the United States, outline the specific skills she would learn on the program, and complete a personality profile. That's more than you need to get a job as, say, the President of the United States.

Da Costa moved to North Carolina and lived with the family she worked for, earning $195.75 for working forty-five hours per week. Both parents were doctors who worked long hours, and they had a newborn. Still, she decided to continue her education. Six years later, after starting many a day at 4 a.m. to fit in work and study, she is taking prerequisite classes for nursing school.

Da Costa counts...

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