I am a third-generation immigrant leading the most populous county in the State of New York during a global pandemic. As Long Island works to recover from the economic and fiscal crisis caused by the coronavirus, I am acutely aware of the vital contributions being made by immigrants here, particularly those who serve on the front lines of this battle.
Foreign-born individuals account for 31 percent of our essential workforce, filling critical roles in health care, food service, sanitation, construction, and more. More importantly, they are our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and in some cases, members of our family.
The Long Island immigrant community is a vital part of our workforce and economy as a whole, with more than half working in white-collar jobs as of 2015. Immigrants make up 18 percent of the combined population of Nassau and Suffolk counties, generating 20 percent of total economic output, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.
Today, the median income of our local immigrant families is $97,000 a year, compared to $119,000 for other Island families. Equally as important, they pay taxes that fund our schools and our police, while shopping locally in our downtowns that support our towns and villages.
Analysis of recent census data, however, has uncovered a troubling trend: immigration in New York is declining. This is in no small part due to hardline policies adopted by the federal government, as well as a slowdown in processing visa applications and the closure of borders caused by the ongoing public health crisis.
The reality is the economic recovery on Long Island, and across the state, will be hampered by a reduction in the immigrant workforce. Immigrants helped New York City recover from its last significant financial crisis in the 1970s and they can do so again — but not without support and encouragement from the local, state, and federal governments.
We need to reestablish our reputation as a welcoming state because this immigration slowdown also has the potential to reduce New York’s political clout. Population decline could result in New York missing out on critical federal funding. This would ultimately mean less federal aid to support our first responders, police, and offset the burden for suburban taxpayers to pay for critical services in the midst of a pandemic.
The impact of a sustained immigration loss to the Empire State could produce lasting economic damage. The Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the current administration in a case regarding the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program. As a result, over 300,000 TPS holders from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador could soon be deported. In fact, there are more than 26,000 TPS holders in New York alone, with Suffolk County being home to an estimated 11,534 TPS holders. These immigrants have median household incomes of $77,600 per year and spend an average of $53,567 per household annually. If they were forced to leave, we could lose approximately $638 million in economic output and $373 million in annual spending.
Immigrants pay billions in annual taxes, fill low-wage jobs, and in many cases, spur investment and job creation that helps to revitalize communities. According to a study conducted by the Hagedorn Foundation, immigrants on Long Island contribute $2,305 more per resident to revenues than they receive in local expenditures on education, health care, and corrections. In short — Long Island’s documented and undocumented immigrants are an economic net positive.
As the grandson of Irish and Italian immigrants, I have long championed the importance of making Suffolk County a welcoming place for everyone. We need the positive contributions of immigrants for the future of our communities and economy now more than ever. We must embrace and champion Long Island’s immigrant populations to ensure a robust recovery can become a reality.
Steve Bellone has served as the county executive of Suffolk County since January 2012.
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