With over 3 million foreign-born residents, immigrants are vital to the health of New York City’s economy and neighborhoods. The critical contributions of immigrants are felt in every corner of the five boroughs: immigrants are just under half of the workforce and just over half of the small business owners; they’re major drivers of many of our core economic sectors like finance, technology, medicine and entertainment; and immigrant communities pay over $10 billion in property and income taxes a year, while bringing in one third of the overall earned-income in New York City.
Immigrants are also essential to keeping New York City the safest big city in America. Over a third of New York City residents are foreign-born, and hundreds of those protect our neighborhoods as members of law enforcement. Keeping an open line of trust between the NYPD and immigrant New Yorkers—documented and undocumented—ensures that no person in this city suffers a crime or bears witness to a crime without recourse. Every resident must feel confident working with the NYPD to keep this city safe and fair for all New Yorkers.
For the strength of our neighborhoods, it’s essential that immigrant New Yorkers are able to live safe and healthy lives. To do that, all of our city’s residents must have access to essential services and city resources.
This week, city officials wrote to the Department of Homeland Security to affirm these facts, and defend the city’s economy and the rights of our residents.
The Department of Homeland Security has proposed a change to the “Application to Register for Permanent Residence or Adjust Status,” or Form I-485 – which is required of all individuals applying for a green card – to mandate that an applicant report on a broad range of public benefits they have accessed, from health to domestic violence services. It is obvious that efforts to tie the use of these services to potential outcomes on an individual’s application for lawful permanent residence in today’s climate of xenophobia and fear would have a chilling effect on immigrant’s access to critical resources, leading to less secure and less healthy communities.
This is cause for alarm, especially since the Trump Administration has signaled a desire to expand the definition of a “public charge” altogether. A step like this is a step in the wrong direction for New Yorkers. Public education, public hospitals and vaccinations, emergency food and shelter, tax credits for low-income workers and other residents, and Medicaid play a crucial role in ensuring that New Yorkers are able to live and thrive to the greatest possible extent. This attempt to limit access is especially dire alongside budget proposals for enormous cuts to Medicaid and food stamps. These types of proposals also have the potential to harm U.S.-born citizens whose immigrant family members may become too frightened to seek help when needed. Ultimately, it can have the clear potential to harm the city’s overall public health and economic security.
New York City is the ultimate city of immigrants because it is the city of opportunity and prosperity. We must ensure that the 60 percent of New York City residents who are immigrants or the children of immigrants can meet their basic needs and keep their families healthy, so that all New Yorkers can prosper.
Nisha Agarwal is the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. Steve Banks is the commissioner of the city’s Department of Social Services. David Sandman is president and CEO of the New York State Health Foundation.