New York is a powerhouse for success, home to some of the world's most iconic buildings and landmarks. New Yorkers are driven by creativity, ambition and have a natural entrepreneurial spirit that supports a diverse and growing culture and economy.
A large part of this success has been cultivated by people from all over the world who find a new start here — something especially evident during our pandemic response.
Today, immigrants make up nearly a quarter of New York’s population, including about 330,000 immigrants here without legal permission who are essential workers. Further, 9,200 of those essential workers are Dreamers, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, who go through a rigorous application process to legally live, work and get an education in the only country they’ve ever known as home.
While immigrants fill essential roles in farming, agriculture, health care and sanitation, they are also critical to New York’s construction, design and real estate sectors, which combined account for the state’s second largest industry. New York immigrants make up about 34% of the state’s construction industry, facing the same 3.8% contraction that hit the industry last year.
We need these workers to recover and rebuild. Immigrants have long filled construction jobs nationwide and have been credited for filling labor gaps that prevented the industry from suffering more severe shortages. According to a study, immigrants accounted for one in four construction workers in 2016, up from one in five in 2004.
The stakes couldn’t be any higher. Our state’s economy was hit the hardest during the pandemic, with unemployment reaching 15.9% at one point. Without people holding jobs, less money was being pumped into our economy through taxes and business patronage, and we suffered as a result. To move forward down the path of recovery, we cannot ignore the support and contributions of immigrants in the country illegally, including Dreamers.
Thankfully, lawmakers are coming together in Washington to put forward bipartisan solutions to fix our nation’s broken immigration system. The Dream Act in the Senate and the American Dream and Promise Act, which recently passed the House of Representatives, aim to support Dreamers and DACA-eligible individuals by creating a clear, earned path to legal residency after years of uncertainty. This policy will do wonders for our economy, workforce and corporate environment.
As president of one of the largest Latino-owned firms in the New York City area, I have seen firsthand the success America’s immigrants can achieve when given the opportunity to work. And the dedication of all immigrants — especially those living here without legal status — hasn’t gone unnoticed. Today, nearly 80% of Americans on both sides of the political spectrum support reforming the U.S. immigration system to establish a pathway to citizenship for this community, polls show.
I am proud to be from a state where people of all cultures come together to build better lives for themselves. These immigrants are working toward the American dream, contributing to New York’s successes by working essential jobs, operating businesses, boosting our economy, supporting our communities, and constructing our future. Considering their immense contributions and dedication, we would only be stronger with an immigration system that provides a pathway to citizenship rather than endless years of uncertainty.
This guest essay reflects the views of Samuel P. Padilla, president of Padilla Construction Services, based in Westbury.