A new report by the Migration Policy Institute found that New York City is home to more than a half-million undocumented immigrants, with the largest concentration of that population living in Queens.
“I think that Queens, to many people, symbolizes opportunity,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Bayside), who was unsurprised to learn of the figure. She cited the large amount of small businesses in Queens, many of them immigrant-owned, as a potential reason.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) echoed Meng’s sentiments.
“Queens is the center of this promise of the American Dream,” he said. “It’s a wonderful mix of diversity. In my district, you can practically walk into another country as you move between different enclaves.”
Peralta sees the new data as an opportunity, highlighting the potential these immigrants represent if they can be properly naturalized and brought into the taxpaying workforce.
According to the MPI report, Queens is home to an estimated 246,000 of the city’s 643,000 illegal immigrants, with 91,000 of them eligible for President Obama’s deferred deportation programs, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.
Both are designed to “bring these people out of the shadows” and get them on track to pay taxes and attend college, according to Peralta, who sponsors the Dream Act, to provide undocumented students with financial aid, in the state Senate.
“We need to show them that New York is still a place that values hard work,” he added.
Meng acknowledged that while helpful, those programs are no replacement for wider reform to fix the immigration process. Processing immigrants through legal channels can take years, she said.
“It’s not about giving priority or putting undocumented immigrants ahead or anyone, it’s two separate mini-issues within the same problem,” Meng said.
“DACA and DAPA are life-rafts for the people of Queens,” Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) said in a prepared statement. “The DACA and DAPA programs allow immigrants who have established deep economic and familial ties to Queens to stay and flourish in the place they call home.”
Coupled with those federal programs are the newly implemented IDNYC cards, which offer a form of identification to all citizens but are designed primarily to serve as an alternative for undocumented immigrants.
“They give the individuals a sense of purpose,” Peralta said of the cards. “They say ‘I am here. I can work. I count.’”
Despite having more illegal immigrants than the other boroughs, Queens has the same number of registration centers for these ID cards as Manhattan and Brooklyn. Brooklyn has just 71,000 immigrants eligible for the deferred action programs, according to the MPI, 20,000 fewer than Queens.
Meng and Peralta both conceded that the demand for more centers exists.
“Queens can always need more resources,” Meng said.
“In general there should be more sites overall,” Peralta said, not just more locations in Queens.
He observed that the ID cards are beneficial to everyone in the community, not just illegal aliens.
“It all helps immigrants feel comfortable. And it helps the police too because the immigrants will be more likely to talk to them,” he explained.
According to Peralta, individuals with no form of identification who aren’t here legally will most likely be nervous talking with police, which makes it harder for cops to do their jobs and keep everyone safe.
Meng held a press conference last Friday warning immigrants against scammers attempting to fraudulently sign them up for DACA and DAPA [see separate story in some editions and at qchron.com].