Westchester is a very diverse and vibrant county whose economy, cultural attractions, culinary destinations and overall quality of life are significantly improved by a large immigrant population. A full quarter of our population is comprised of people not born in the United States. About half of those are naturalized citizens. Most immigrants in our county—57 percent—were born in Latin America; 20 percent came from Europe, 19 percent from Asia, and three percent from Africa. The remaining one percent were born in other parts of the world.
It is probably safe to say that today many Westchester residents are aware of this immigrant presence. What is less well known are details about the ways that immigrants contribute to the economy and the quality of life in our communities. For example, immigrants settle in our county primarily because there is a significant thirst for this work force. The work that immigrants do is generally in-service jobs, such as low-wage domestic work that makes the lifestyle of Westchester’s dual-income families possible .
Immigrants are also highly represented in the landscaping business, helping homeowners to maintain their lawns and gardens. They serve us in restaurants, repair our homes, and work for construction companies that build many of Westchester’s new office towers.
Immigrants pay taxes, even when they are not documented. They pay sales tax on everyday purchases like gasoline and clothing, as well as income tax to the federal, state and local governments. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that “at least 50% of undocumented immigrant households file income tax returns using Individual Tax Identification Numbers.” In New York State, it is estimated that undocumented immigrants contribute over $1 billion in state and local taxes annually.
The Social Security Administration estimates that undocumented immigrants contribute about $12 billion each year to the cash flow of the program, and they do this without receiving any benefits in return because of their immigration status. Moreover, immigrants, whatever their status, are immensely important to the continued viability of Social Security because many are young and their contributions will fund the system over the long term. Currently, there are not enough US-born children to equal the number of future workers needed to provide for our aging population. Immigrants are essential to maintaining the Social Security Trust Fund.
The mission of my organization, Neighbors Link, is to strengthen the whole community by actively enhancing the healthy integration of immigrants. There is a growing awareness among public officials and the business community that it is smart policy to assist this integration. The recent passage of New York State’s Green Light bill highlights this awareness by expanding access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants
As our county continues to attract more people from more parts of the world, it is important that we recognize the forces that underlie population shifts and work together to make public policies that benefit all of us, now and into the future.