Asylum seekers bring economic opportunity to New York
by Murad Awawdeh and Juanita Lewis (republished from LoHud)
More than 70,000 new neighbors have arrived over the last year seeking the same things that generations of New Yorkers have historically come here for — safety and hope.
These immigrants — from Venezuela, Guatemala, west Africa, and other parts of the world — have done everything legally required of themselves to claim asylum at our border and seek safety for their families. While New York City has been the epicenter of arrivals since last summer, our entire state has a rich history of embracing immigrant communities that we must all live up to today.
As New York City’s affordability crisis has made it extremely difficult to find housing for new arrivals, willing migrants have begun to be welcomed in communities beyond the five boroughs. We’ve seen folks on the ground from Albany to Newburgh quickly mobilize to welcome these new New Yorkers. Leaders including Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncraz have leveraged their power to ensure asylum seekers have the opportunity to thrive in their communities.
Even so, 30 counties — nearly half of all counties in New York State — have taken executive action against people in their moment of need. Some of these largely partisan officials are now fear-mongering and arguing they cannot afford to house migrants despite commitments from New York City Mayor Eric Adams to pay for housing and social services.
These dishonest efforts by some officials erase the human trauma, courage and resilience migrants carry with them as they arrive in New York, thwarting the goodwill we know exists among the folks who live in these communities. New Yorkers and asylum seekers deserve a more coordinated response to this crisis. It’s clear local communities have and will answer the call to support asylum seekers. Nearly every city in New York has an active network of nonprofits and CBOs that supports migrants.
One in five New Yorkers identify as immigrants and different parts of the state have experienced the rich contributions they have made to their communities both culturally and economically. In fact, New York’s immigrant community is estimated to represent $140 billion in annual spending power and contributes $62 billion in state taxes every year.
More than 16,000 refugees — over a quarter of all refugees who’ve entered New York — have resettled in Buffalo since 2002. This has created a renaissance for the city that is directly responsible for Buffalo’s first population increase in 70 years in 2020.
Utica, too, has experienced a major boom thanks to immigrants and refugees who account for a quarter of the city’s entire population. The city’s rich population of Bosnians, Burmese, Vietnamese people and others have revitalized a once-downtrodden city with new businesses and a capable workforce.
Syracuse’s foreign-born population has jumped over 42% since 2000, helping bring an end to a decades-long population decline in the city. Immigrants have contributed upwards of $1.7 billion to Syracuse’s GDP annually and start their own businesses at higher rates than native-born residents.
It’s time to flip the script on asylum seekers. For too long, nefarious actors have tried to dehumanize immigrants as burdens to the state and criminals. Our state, and country, is at its best when we serve as a beacon of hope for people seeking freedom, safety and protection from persecution. We should not fear change but embrace the opportunity it presents.
New York has the capacity to welcome immigrants with dignity but it takes a willingness to mobilize with purpose. Just last year, we saw federal, state and local governments took action to integrate Ukrainian refugees into our communities, offering refugees Temporary Protected Status and an expedited path to employment. We can do the same thing for our newest New Yorkers from Haiti, Venezuela, Honduras, Sudan, and other countries who require similar protections and opportunities.
Those immigrants seeking asylum today embody the principles and values that all Americans and New Yorkers profess as core to our identity: Freedom, opportunity and equality. Let’s live up to those ideals and welcome these new neighbors the way we have for so many before.
Murad Awawdeh is Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. Juanita Lewis is Executive Director of Community Voices Heard, with chapters in New York City, Orange Dutchess, and Westchester Counties.