By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – They deserve more than a pat on the shoulder.
Immigrant workers, including the undocumented ones (age 16 and older), comprise the majority of frontline essential workers who continued to operate in-person throughout the pandemic here.
According to the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA)’s fourth Annual Report, “State of Our Immigrant City,” foreign-born workers represent approximately 56 percent of the workforce in essential industries and 58 percent of the workforce in essential occupations.
The MOIA report, released on April 19, 2021, said that the top three industries that employ immigrant New Yorkers are restaurants and other food services, construction, and home health care services.
Immigrant New Yorkers contributed $244 billion to the city’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), about 23 percent of its total GDP, the report said.
“Our 2020 Annual Report reflects on the enormous sacrifices immigrant New Yorkers have made to support our city through its greatest time of need, while suffering some of the pandemic’s most severe impacts. As our communities heal from both the pandemic and four years of racism and xenophobic policies from the Trump administration, we must ensure that the needs of our immigrant communities are central to our recovery,” said Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Bitta Mostofi.
Despite their significant contribution to the economy, immigrant New Yorkers are poor. The poverty rate among immigrant New Yorkers is higher than for New Yorkers born in the United States, the MOIA report revealed.
The poverty rate for undocumented immigrants is 29.2 percent, higher than the 27.1 percent for green card holders and immigrants with other statuses. The two groups in New York City with the lowest poverty rates are U.S.-born citizens and naturalized citizens.
Twelve percent of immigrant New Yorkers lack health insurance, compared to 4 percent of U.S.-born New Yorkers, while 46 percent of undocumented New Yorkers lack health insurance.
Thirteen percent of undocumented children (under age 19) in New York City lack health insurance, despite the fact that universal coverage is available to all children, regardless of immigration status in New York State.
The MOIA report outlined the diverse demographics of NYC as follows:
63 percent U.S.-born citizens; 21 percent naturalized citizens; 10 percent green card holders or other status; and 5 percent undocumented.
Top Ten Countries of Birth for Immigrant New Yorkers, from Highest Population to Lowest: Dominican Republic, China, Jamaica, Mexico, Guyana, Ecuador, Bangladesh, Haiti, India, and Trinidad & Tobago.
Top Ten Languages of Immigrant New Yorkers with Limited English Proficiency (LEP), in Order: Spanish, Chinese (including Cantonese and Mandarin), Russian, Bengali, Haitian Creole, Korean, Arabic, Polish, Urdu, and Italian.
Nearly 62 percent of New Yorkers live in family households with at least one immigrant.
About 12 percent of New Yorkers live in mixed-status households, in which at least one undocumented person lives with other persons who have legal status.
About 14 percent of all children or 240,000 live in mixed-status families.
The report also laid out MOIA’s 2020 state, federal, and regulatory advocacy priorities. MOIA’s advocacy work across all levels of government is critical, with ongoing opportunities to strengthen immigrant communities, including through federal advocacy for inclusive COVID-19 relief, advocating for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and taking on the Trump administration’s harmful policies in court.
“Through critical cross-agency, intergovernmental, multi-city, and community partner collaborations, the City will continue to build out our capacity to help meet the needs of our immigrant communities, advocate for a more welcoming immigration system that is consistent with our values, and work together towards an equitable recovery for all New Yorkers,” Mostofi said.
Sideya Sherman, Executive Director of the NYC Taskforce on Racial Inclusion & Equity remarked that the MOIA report is “a call to action for us to continue addressing the unique barriers immigrant communities face and collectively advocate for pro-immigrant policies at all levels of government.”
“Immigrant communities were especially hard-hit during the pandemic, with many undocumented New Yorkers and families of mixed status lacking job security and access to federal assistance. Through MOIA, the City has made great strides in increasing food and healthcare access, language assistance, and other supports for immigrant families and communities,” she said.
For the second year, NYC experienced a decline of immigrant residents. Since 2008, the City’s non-citizen population has dropped about 10 percent overall. # (With reports from NYC Office of Immigrant Affairs).