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Myths and Realities About Immigrants on Long Island

Myth:  Immigrants are only a small minority of our population on Long Island.

Reality: Immigrants—documented and undocumented combined—make up 16 percent of the population of Long Island.

Myth:  Immigrants only perform menial labor when they come to the United States.

Reality: More than half (54 percent) of immigrants on Long Island work in white-collar jobs. The other half work in blue-collar jobs, service jobs, or farming, fishing, and forestry jobs.

Myth:  Most immigrants on Long Island are undocumented.                              

Reality: Roughly one in five immigrants in the Long Island area is estimated to be undocumented, according to estimates prepared for the Fiscal Policy Institute by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2007.

Myth: Most undocumented workers are day laborers.

Reality:  It is a fair estimate that less than one percent of immigrants on Long Island are day laborers—workers hired from hiring sites. Workers hired through these sites represent only a tiny fraction of the 460,000 immigrants on Long Island, and a small share even of undocumented immigrants in the area.

Myth:  Immigrants have a negative impact on the U.S. economy.

Reality: Immigrants make an economic contribution to Long Island that is closely proportionate to their share of the population. Immigrants work in a wide range of jobs, pay a substantial amount in taxes, and are slightly more likely than U.S.-born Long Islanders to be small business owners.

Immigrants make up a somewhat larger share of entrepreneurs than their U.S.-born counterparts. Nearly a quarter (22 percent) of all the small businesses located on Long Island are owned by immigrants. Of the 53,000 small businesses located on Long Island, 15,000 are owned by immigrants, generating profits of $804 million, or 16 percent of all small business profits.  Immigrant businesses have played an important role in spurring the revival and growth of areas such as Hicksville, Brentwood, Hempstead, and Patchogue.

Myth:  Undocumented immigrants take good-paying jobs from Americans. 

Reality: Undocumented immigrants are, as might be expected, highly concentrated in low-wage occupations. About a third are in generally low-wage service jobs, more than in any other broad occupation. About a fifth are in construction, and another fifth in production (mostly manufacturing jobs).

While immigrant workers generally earn about a quarter less than their U.S.-born counterparts, immigrants tend to have more working adults per family.

Myth:  Undocumented immigrants do not pay rent or taxes.

Reality:  On average, the model estimated that undocumented immigrants paid $2,000 per family in state and local taxes in New York, the bulk of it in sales tax. The study is based on a detailed model that estimates that at least half of undocumented immigrants pay income and federal taxes.

Myth:  Most immigrants are not United States citizens.

Reality:  More than half of foreign-born Long Islanders have become naturalized U.S. citizens. Naturalized citizens 18 years and older are eligible to vote, which means there are 253,000 eligible voters on Long Island who are immigrants, including 165,000 in Nassau and 88,000 in Suffolk. 

Myth: Most immigrants do not want to learn English.  

Reality:  More than half (58 percent) of immigrants living on Long Island who have been in the United States for at least 10 years either speak only English at home or speak English “very well,” a level that is generally considered to be equivalent to proficiency.

Myth:  The children of undocumented immigrants abuse their right to public services.

Reality:  While these children are eligible for public assistance because they were born in the United States, their unauthorized parents may be reluctant to seek them for fear of deportation. So they neither use nor abuse public services.



Most of the facts above were directly taken from the Fiscal Policy Institute’s Immigration Research Initiative.



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