Immigrants Are Not the Problem. They Are the Solution.

Immigrants have been vital to the growth and prosperity of the New York metro area. The roll-back of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that the White House announced earlier this week threatens not just the futures of nearly one million young immigrants, but every household, business and community in our region.

As our staff wrote, “Reversing this immigration policy would leave over 153,000 young immigrants in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut previously protected under DACA, millions of other undocumented immigrants, and others who have other forms of status but are not yet citizens, vulnerable to deportation.”

And as we’ve argued before, these immigrants and their families have been central to the story of our region’s resurgence and success.

From 1970 to 1980, New York City’s population dropped by 100,000 people every year, from 8 to 7 million. Losing these people didn’t bring more jobs or lower taxes. Instead, we suffered through some of New York’s toughest years.

But it could have been much worse. In fact, during that period, almost 200,000 people moved out of New York City each year. So why didn’t we find ourselves with a population of just 6 million people by 1980? Why didn’t we become like Cleveland, Philadelphia or any number of cities that saw population declines much greater than New York’s and have taken that much longer to bounce back?

The answer is that each year, New York City also attracted nearly 80,000 new immigrants. They came from countries such as the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and China, and they settled in communities like Washington Heights, Flatbush and Flushing. They were the beginning of a wonderful influx that lifted our entire region. From 1970 to 2000, a total of 2.8 million immigrants joined our ranks, while our US-born population declined by over 1 million. In 1970, only 18% of New Yorkers hailed from outside the US. Today, more than one-third of our city is foreign-born. Queens alone has residents who speak 138 different languages. And these communities now extend across the entire metropolitan region, creating vibrant neighborhoods from New Brunswick to Bridgeport.

When we talk about the rebirth of New York City, we talk about new housing production, rebuilding the subways and making communities safer. They were all vitally important, but we need to recognize that welcoming people from around the world was just as important. If we didn’t have those new residents coming in – some with documentation, others not – we would have found ourselves in a much worse situation in 2000, unable to take full advantage of the changes in technology, culture and economy that are propelling us forward today.

We know that immigrants are not the problem. They are the solution.

As part of our efforts to produce A Region Transformed, RPA’s fourth regional plan for the tri-state metropolitan region, we’ve been collaborating with community-based, social equity groups to address local concerns of affordable homes, access to opportunity, public health and other issues. These groups are working to protect their communities and families, which are under threat from this new initiative:

Make the Road NY
Make the Road CT
New York Communities for Change
Community Voices Heard
Housing and Community Development Network of NJ
Partnership for Strong Communities
Right to the City
Hester Street Collaborative

RPA encourages you to support efforts to protect the DREAMers – young immigrants brought to the United States as small children, who today are going to school, serving in our military and working to provide a better life for their families. We all benefit from their being part of our region.


The map in this post shows communities at the census tract level with high (over 40%) shares of foreign born residents and identifies the largest region of origin. Tracts with lower shares of foreign born residents display the US born race or ethnic group with the largest population share.


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