Foreign migrants bused north earlier this month arrive a at...

Foreign migrants bused north earlier this month arrive a at Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The images flashed across television screens have been daunting: foreign migrants by the thousands — single travelers, families — filing out of buses and onto the streets of New York City after a ride from the southern border.

How many of those migrants have made their way to Nassau and Suffolk counties and the rest of the country since the migrant crisis began remains unclear. Researchers are in the process of combing through 2022 census data for details about who they are and where they live and work.

But one element seems to be emerging, researchers at several think tanks focused on immigrants say: This recent influx could represent a change from decades past.

“People are fleeing places like Venezuela, where they may have had a pretty good job or small business, but they feel threatened by being there,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of the New York City-based Immigration Research Initiative, which released a study last year exploring the economic circumstances of immigrants on Long Island.


  • Researchers have been combing through updated census data to learn more about migrants bused to New York and elsewhere.
  • Early indications are that their circumstances may very well represent a change from decades past where migrants have an established connection in the United States.
  • Results of the various studies are scheduled for release sometime in the spring.

“They're coming as families, which is different than in the past,” where he said the more usual trajectory involved single individuals coming, then sending for family once they got settled. 

Looking at immigrants without legal documentation nationally, the Center for Migration Studies, a think tank in New York City, wrote in an Oct. 16 report: “In 2021, the undocumented population residing in the United States increased slightly to 10.3 million, compared with 10.2 million the previous year. The gradual decline or near-zero growth of this population has continued for more than a decade. However, the large increases in apprehensions at the Southern border in recent years, along with continued legislative gridlock in Congress, could portend a new era of growth in this population.”

Finding new migrants

To find what role the influx of new migrants may play in growth, researchers are sorting through the 2022 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, which were released in December. The bureau does not ascertain whether someone is an undocumented immigrant, but its survey does ask whether someone was born in another country — and where — and whether they are a naturalized U.S. citizen or not a citizen.

Overall, the Island has an estimated 560,000 foreign-born residents, according to census data released in December.

The researchers at the various think tanks base their population estimates on this census data but differ slightly in their analysis of it. For instance, Matthew Lisiecki, a senior research and policy analyst for the Center for Migration Studies, said they “go through a process of estimating whether each person that fits in that foreign-born population, noncitizen [category] may be undocumented by looking at their occupation,” among other things.

“There are some occupations where you have to be a citizen or under some legal status,” Lisiecki said. “We also look at benefits that they may have access to, that you have to be under various legal status to be eligible for. We take that group of foreign-born noncitizens, remove the people that indicated through other responses in the ACS that have an occupation you need legal status [for], and use that to come up with our estimate, our imputation, of whether or not they may be undocumented.”

The center estimated there were about 95,000 undocumented immigrants on Long Island, including about 69,000 immigrants in the region's labor force in 2021. For New York State, the center estimated there were 620,000 undocumented immigrants in 2021, down from 865,000 in 2010.

Staying long term

For most of the recent migrants, staying legally in New York long term is not a likely option, Newsday previously reported. Even so, an unknown number may stay.

There were an estimated 50,000 “unauthorized immigrants” each in Nassau and Suffolk, according to 2019 data from the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.

The think tank found a large plurality, 18,000, or 36%, coming from El Salvador in Nassau, and 17,000, or 34%, from El Salvador in Suffolk. The other top countries of birth for the Island's undocumented population, according to the institute, were Honduras — 7,000 in Nassau and 6,000 in Suffolk; and Ecuador in Suffolk with 5,000; and Guatemala in Nassau, at 3,000, according to the institute.

The Pew Research Center also researches the undocumented population using similar methods as the Center for Migration Studies, said Jeff Passel, senior demographer with Pew, based in D.C.

Fluctuating population

Passel said: “Our estimate for New York State in 2021 was about 600,000 undocumented immigrants. What it's been for the last three to four years … I suspect it's gone up, but we don't have the data for 2022 and certainly not for 2023.”

Passel said estimates in New York State a decade ago were “closer to 750,000.” He added the estimate rose to around 900,000 to 1 million between 2005 to 2007, before plummeting “by a couple hundred thousand” during the Great Recession years of 2007 to 2009.

According to Passel, Long Island's undocumented immigrant population “peaked at around 150,000 between 2006 and 2009 … And since about 2014, it's been around 100,000.”

In the past, researchers noted that many immigrants ended up in parts of the United States based on where they already had family or friends. But now, some are coming to New York without that base of support.

“So they don't have a sofa to stay on,” said Kallick, of the Immigration Research Initiative. “So that makes it harder.”

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