Study notes immigrants' role in LI economy

Susan and Ivan Lopez of Lopez Brothers Landscaping Susan and Ivan López of Lopez Brothers Landscaping in Farmingville. (Oct. 26, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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Immigrants in Nassau and Suffolk counties generated 17 percent of the total earnings of Long Islanders, roughly equal to their share of the population, a study of 2009 census figures released Thursday found.

The report by the liberal Fiscal Policy Institute in Manhattan also found that most immigrant families live in owner-occupied homes and reported paying a median $8,499 in property taxes. More than half were white-collar workers; nearly half of the immigrant households earned $80,000 a year or more; and 22 percent of small businesses were owned by people not born in the United States.

The group analyzed 2009 census and other demographic data to reach its conclusions that many immigrants are living the middle-class lifestyle as they bolster the Long Island economy.

"Immigrants are pulling their weight in the economy," said David Dyssegaard Kallick, the institute's immigration research director. "When people think about immigrants they may not think as much about the executives and the doctors and the nurses or small-business owners."

They are a diverse bunch from places such as El Salvador, India and Italy, and numbered 493,000 in 2009, the study found.

The economic data, however, has to be weighed against the costs of a growing population and more demand for social services, said Steven Camarota, research director at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which favors immigration limits.

Camarota points to data showing that 47 percent of immigrant households in New York State access social services, such as food assistance and Medicaid, compared with 27 percent for non-immigrants.

Seth Forman, chief planner for the Long Island Regional Planning Council, said the figures are accurate but paint an incomplete picture. The study doesn't reflect immigrant impacts on "infrastructure, schools, parks, environment, health and emergency services."

Susan and Ivan López of Lopez Brothers Landscaping in Farmingville weren't surprised by the findings. The Colombian immigrants started their business six years ago and employ 15.

"We came to this country seeking progress and wanting to live better than we could in our country," said Susan López, 30, who became a U.S. citizen years ago. "It's gratifying to see that all those weekends, Christmases and holidays we have worked are making a difference."

Maryann Slutsky, of Long Island Wins, an immigrant advocacy group in Old Westbury, said the report helps dispel a "false reality" about immigrants. "They come here from Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America and they come here to work hard."

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