Opinion: Immigrants Are the Lifeblood of New York City

Nearly half of New York City’s small businesses are owned by immigrants.

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Nearly half of New York City’s small businesses are owned by immigrants.

    These 69,000 immigrants are the Fiscal Policy Institute says, “contributing substantially to the city’s entrepreneurial base.”

    Beyond the dry statistics, is a dramatic story.  Indeed, it is the very romance of New York City.

    Alex Waugh said: “New York has been a magnet drawing to itself from East, North, South, West, from every state of the Union and from every European country, the restless, the dissatisfied and the ambitious, who have demanded more from life than the circumstances of their birth offered them.”

    And, indeed, what makes this city unique is its immense diversity. We are what used to be called a melting pot. Our former mayor, David Dinkins, called it a great “mosaic.”  However, you describe it, the facts are clear. This is a city where 36 percent of its residents are foreign born, where about 170 languages are spoken.  It’s a city that has been a lure, a magnet to all  the world.

    The Statue of Liberty and the poem at its pedestal beckons the immigrants from all over the world. That sonnet, written by an 18-year-old Portuguese-Jewish woman, the daughter of immigrants, says:
     

              “Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
               the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
               “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
               “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

    Author Peggy Noonan has written: “I love immigrants... I love them because they are brave. They left their country and struggled their way to this one to get a better life.”

    I am the son of immigrants. My mother and father were both born in Europe. They came here as children -- but I can never forget how seriously they took this country. My mother’s father was so proud of his citizenship papers that he framed them and hung them on the wall of his tiny butcher shop. My paternal grandfather was as proud and happy about his American citizenship.

    These immigrants of the early 20th century were an enterprising lot. They worked 12, 14 hours a day. But they were grateful for the benefits of this country and they were ever thankful for the opportunities it afforded them and, most importantly, their children. “This,” my Russian-born mother’s father told me, “is the greatest country in the world.”

    I spoke to Professor Charlie Morgan of Brigham Young University in Utah. “Based on these statistics, it’s clear that immigrants play a very important part in our economy,” Professor Morgan said. “It’s sad that we’re still deadlocked over immigration reform. These people deserve our help as they try to expand their businesses and overcome the obstacles that so often impede them.

    “Reform must take account of the 11 million undocumented immigrants. Often, especially in agriculture, they are badly needed and yet the atmosphere can be very negative. “

    Immigrants are a great, nurturing force in New York City. These latest statistics make that clear.

    We need to help remove obstacles to immigrant business owners and address their issues  in Washington and New York.

    Let’s keep the golden door open -- and the opportunities alive.