Illegal immigration to New York City

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Illegal immigration to New York City is prevalent.[citation needed]

Profile and demographics[edit]

According to a study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a little more than four million immigrants live in New York State and three million live in New York City. According to a 2005 estimate, there are 645,000 undocumented immigrants in the state of New York,[1] and there are 535,000 illegal immigrants in New York City alone.[2] In all, undocumented immigrants make up 18 percent of all immigrants living in New York City.[2] Undocumented immigrants in New York City come from a wide array of countries from all over the globe. According to an estimate by Jeffrey S. Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center, 27 percent of illegal immigrants in New York City come from Mexico and Central America, 23 percent come from South Asia and East Asia, 22 percent come from the Caribbean, 13 percent come from South America, eight percent come from Europe, five percent come from Africa, and only two percent come from the Middle East. [citation needed]

Participation in labor force[edit]

Although undocumented immigrants do not have legal permanent status in New York City, they play a vital role in the city’s economy and job market. As former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained, “Although [illegal immigrants] broke the law by illegally crossing our borders or over-staying their visas and our businesses broke the law by employing them, our city’s economy would be a shell of itself had they not, and it would collapse if they were deported”.[3][4] According to a Fiscal Policy Institute analysis of 2000 to 2006 data, there are 374,000 undocumented immigrant workers in New York City, which makes up 10 percent of the resident workforce.[2] With 374,000 out of 535,000 undocumented immigrants working in New York City, undocumented immigrants have a labor force participation rate of roughly 70 percent. This percentage is higher than the labor force participation rate for native-born residents, 60 percent, or for overall foreign-born residents, 64 percent, in New York City.[2]

Undocumented immigrants can be found working in almost every industry in New York City performing a wide variety of tasks. More than half of all dishwashers in the city are illegal immigrants, as are a third of all sewing machine operators, painters, cooks, construction laborers, and food preparation workers. Illegal immigrants also make up close to 30 percent of the city’s automotive service technicians & mechanics, waiters & waitresses, maids & housekeeping cleaners, and carpenters. The five occupations with the most illegal immigrant workers in New York City are cooks (21,000), janitors & building cleaners (19,000), construction laborers (17,000), maids & housekeeping cleaners (16,000), and waiters & waitresses (15,000).


Occupation Estimated number of illegal immigrant workers Illegal immigrant workers as a portion of all workers
Dishwashers 11,000 54%
Sewing machine operators 12,000 35%
Painters, construction & maintenance 7,000 33%
Cooks 21,000 33%
Construction laborers 17,000 32%
Food preparation workers 6,000 32%
Waiters & waitresses 15,000 28%
Maids & housekeeping cleaners 16,000 28%
Automotive service technicians & mechanics 5,000 26%
Carpenters 9,000 26%
Taxi drivers & chauffeurs 11,000 20%
Stock clerks & order fillers 7,000 19%
Janitors & building cleaners 19,000 19%
Laborers & freight, stock & material movers 6,000 16%
Driver/sales workers & truck drivers 9,000 15%
Cashiers 10,000 12%
Retail salespersons 10,000 12%
Child care workers 7,000 12%
Office clerks, general 5,000 12%
First-line supervisors of retail sales workers 8,000 10%
Other occupations 163,000 6%
Total Undocumented labor force 374,000 10%

Source: Fiscal Policy Institute, 2007.[2]

Restaurant industry[edit]

The restaurant industry may be the industry that employs the most illegal immigrants. In 2007, 36 percent of restaurant workers were undocumented immigrants.[2] According to a 2008 estimate from the Pew Hispanic Center, about 20 percent of the nearly 2.6 million chefs, head cooks and cooks in the United States are undocumented immigrants.[5] According to a 2005 report by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York and the New York City Restaurant Industry Coalition, undocumented immigrant workers in the restaurant industry in New York City receive substantially lower wages than legal workers. According to the report, the median wage of all restaurant workers in the city was $8.00 an hour. However, when illegal immigrant workers’ earnings were taken out of the sample, the median wage rose to $9.00 an hour.[6] As a Manhattan chef and restaurateur explained, “We always, always hire the undocumented workers…It’s not just me, it’s everybody in the industry. First, they are willing to do the work. Second, they are willing to learn. Third, they are not paid as well. It’s an economic decision. It’s less expensive to hire an undocumented person”.[5]

Mexican immigrants[edit]

According to an analysis of the most recently available census data, Mexican immigrants have the highest rate of employment among the city’s 10 largest immigrant groups, and they are more likely to hold jobs than New York City’s native-born population. Based on the 2008 census data, about 75 percent of all Mexicans in the city between ages 16 and 65 are in the civilian labor force and only around four percent of them are unemployed, which is well above the nation’s current unemployment rate of 9.6%.[7] Experts say the main reason so many of these immigrants are employed is because they are illegal, and, consequentially, they are less likely to report workplace abuses to the authorities for fear of deportation. As a result, many of these workers hold jobs that pay less than the minimum wage and require them to work 100-hour work weeks.[7]

Social and fiscal impacts[edit]


In 1996, New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani stated: "The reality is that [illegal immigrants] are here, and they're going to remain here. The choice becomes for a city what do you do? Allow them to stay on the streets or allow them to be educated? The preferred choice from the point of view of New York City is to be educated".[8]

New York City’s educational policy has allowed undocumented students to receive education through the state’s public school systems. An estimated 345,000, or 11.7 percent, of the K-12 public school students in New York are children of illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants also play a large role in the college system in New York City mainly due to the fact that the state allows illegal immigrant students who grew up in the state to attend public colleges at in-state tuition rates.[1] According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the State University of New York system does not keep track of whether a foreign student is in the country legally or illegally. Consequentially, the City University of New York hosts about 2,000 illegal immigrant students.[1]

According to Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), Illegal immigrants in K-12 public schools cost New York taxpayers $1.5 billion per year. The U.S. citizen children of illegal immigrants cost the taxpayers an additional $2.8 billion per year. When these two numbers are combined, the total cost of educating illegal immigrants and children of illegal immigrants in K-12 public schools is more than $4.3 billion annually for the state’s taxpayers. The state’s admission of illegal immigrants into the state’s public universities and community colleges at taxpayer subsidized in-state tuition rates costs the city and state’s taxpayers an additional $29–38 million per year.[1]


Medical care provided to illegal immigrants is costly for New York City’s legal residents. According to a 2002 report by the United States General Accounting Office, in-patient care in hospitals provided to illegal immigrants cost the state $474 million.[9] However, this figure fails to include the out-patient costs associated with treating the illegal immigrant population in emergency rooms. When these figures are included, the overall taxpayer-funded, unreimbursed medical outlays for health care provided to the state’s illegal immigrant population amount to an estimated $690 million a year.[10]

Law Enforcement[edit]

Although New York City does not check immigration status when illegal immigrants seek medical attention or education services, the city does check the immigration status of anyone who commits a crime.[3] In 1994, the Urban Institute estimated the illegal immigrant prisoner population to be 2,158 persons. As of 2005, the number of deportable immigrant prisoner-years in New York facilities was about 6,500. In New York City alone, the number of deportable immigrant prisoner-years was 1,656.[1] These prisoners have large costs for New York City’s legal residents. The total salary-related incarceration costs are about $208 million per year, and the uncompensated cost of incarcerating deportable illegal immigrants in New York’s state and local prisons amounts to about $165 million a year.[1]

Taxpayer costs[edit]

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tougher immigration enforcement, almost half the households headed by an illegal immigrant are receiving welfare, food assistance and health benefits for their children.[11]

In total, the illegal immigrant population residing in New York costs the state’s taxpayers more than $5 billion per year for education, medical care and incarceration costs according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform.[1] On a per person basis, the annual tax burden amounts to about $874 per New York household headed by a native-born resident.[10] Even if the estimated $730 million in sales, income and property taxes collected from illegal immigrants are subtracted from the fiscal outlays, net costs still amount to more than $4.5 billion per year for the city and state’s taxpayers.[1]


In October 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (ICRA), which authorized legalization for illegal immigrants who could prove they had resided in the U.S. continually, although without appropriate documentation, since January 1, 1982.[12] About 171,000 New York foreign residents (118,200 long-term illegal residents and 52,900 illegal agricultural workers) received legal residence as a result of the 1986 amnesty.[1]

Currently, New York City has a sanctuary policy that accommodates illegal immigrants by prohibiting its police from asking about immigration status.[1] As Mayor Bloomberg explained, “Our general policy in this area protects the confidentiality of law-abiding immigrants, regardless of their status, when they report a crime or visit a hospital or send their children to school”.[3]

On September 17, 2003, Mayor Bloomberg issued Executive Order 41 to protect the privacy of illegal immigrants and to grant them access to City services that they need and are entitled to receive. According to Executive Order 41, if an illegal immigrant goes to a City agency to request certain services or benefits, City employees will not ask about his immigration status unless it is required by law or necessary to determine whether he is eligible to receive those services or benefits. Furthermore, if an illegal immigrant is the victim or witness of a crime, or if he calls or approaches the police seeking assistance, police officers will not inquire about his immigration status.[13][14][15][16][17]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j The Costs of Illegal Immigration to New Yorkers: A Report by the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Working For a Better Life.
  3. ^ a b c United States. Cong. Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate. Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Examining the Need for a Guest Worker Program. 109th Cong., 2nd sess. Cong J–109–94. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006.
  4. ^ "Bloomberg: New York City Will Collapse Without Illegal Immigrants." 26 Dec. 2007. 09 Sept. 2010.
  5. ^ a b Immigration Crackdown Steps Into the Kitchen.
  6. ^ Kharbanda, Remy, and Andrea Ritchie. Behind the Kitchen Door: Pervasive Inequality in New York City’s Thriving Restaurant Industry. Rep. Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) and the New York City Restaurant Industry C, 25 Jan. 2005. Web. 21 Sept. 2010. <>.
  7. ^ a b Mexican New Yorkers Are Steady Force in Workplace.
  8. ^ Romney: Giuliani's NYC 'Sanctuary' for Illegal Immigrants.
  9. ^ Undocumented Aliens: Questions Persist about Their Impact on Hospitals’ Uncompensated Care Costs. Rep. no. GAO-04-472. United States General Accounting Office, May 2004. 10 Sept. 2010.
  10. ^ a b Martin, Jack. The Costs of Illegal Immigration on New Yorkers. Rep. Washington, DC: Federation for American Immigration Reform, 2006.
  11. ^ Gentilviso, Richard. "Immigrants Make Their Mark On New York City." The Queens Gazette. 26 Dec. 2007. Web. 13 Sept. 2010.
  12. ^ Foner, Nancy. New Immigrants in New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
  13. ^ Executive Order No. 41, C.F.R. (2003).
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^


  • Ciment, James, ed. "New York City." Encyclopedia of American Immigration. Vol. 3. Armonk, NY: M.E Sharpe, 2001.
  • Krase, Jerome, and Ray Hutchison. Race and Ethnicity in New York City. Vol. 7. Oxford, UK: Elsevier Ltd, 2004.

Further reading[edit]