Op-Ed | Cutting services is dangerous and unnecessary; make the super-rich pay what they owe instead

Migrants say they are worried and confused after days of sleeping on the Midtown streets.
Photo by Dean Moses

Every day, New Yorkers wake up and work hard for a better future for ourselves and our loved ones. Immigrant New Yorkers — those who’ve been here for decades and our newest neighbors — are no different. They, too, are the heart and soul of New York.  Anyone who tries to frame the newest New Yorkers’ presence here as a drain on our resources and economy in any other way willfully ignore their long track record of building our communities and growing our economy. Yet, instead of helping newcomers build a foundation on which they can thrive, Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul are forcing people to sleep on the streets and threatening to cut even more services that keep New Yorkers healthy and safe.

All people, regardless of their race, immigration status, or zip code, are integral to the workforce in New York. Across the state,  nearly three million immigrant workers comprise almost a third of our workforce, taking on crucial roles in essential services like home healthcare, food delivery, and more. They are more likely than native-born New Yorkers to participate in the labor force and are more likely to be small business owners. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are entrepreneurs, employing thousands of New Yorkers. In addition, immigrant households hold over $100 billion in spending power, money that goes directly back into local communities and small businesses. Undocumented immigrants alone contribute $40 billion to New York’s economic output. About three-quarters of them are employed. 

Contrary to what some people say, immigrants — regardless of their documentation status — pay a significant amount in taxes (unlike tens of thousands of ultra-rich Americans who avoid paying taxes). Even though they don’t have a social security number, most undocumented immigrant households file income tax returns using an Individual Tax Identification Number and pay sales and other taxes. In 2019, immigrants paid almost 60 billion in local, state, and federal taxes. Undocumented immigrants alone contributed $1.4 billion in taxes to New York. Like the taxes nonimmigrants pay, their contributions help fund the public programs, services and support that New Yorkers rely on. Yet, while undocumented immigrants contribute to our social safety net, they most often cannot access those public benefits

The truth is, it is corporate politicians, backed by their ultra-rich donors, who’ve drained our public services of the necessary funding for decades. Instead of investing in public services like affordable housing programs — which keep our neighbors and communities safe — or raising the minimum wage to keep up with the cost of living, lawmakers give away tens of billions of dollars to highly profitable corporations, luxury real estate developers, and companies that provide little to no return in the surrounding neighborhoods. It doesn’t have to be this way. The Invest in Our New York coalition is advocating for common-sense reforms that will generate $40 billion in new public funds that we can invest directly into our communities and all New Yorkers’ well-being. For example, many super-wealthy New Yorkers make income simply by selling stocks and other investments. Yet, these earnings are not taxed at the same level as our hard-earned paychecks; amending this inequity will bring in $12 billion every year.

If billion-dollar corporations and super-rich New Yorkers paid what they owed in taxes, we could deeply invest in the public programs we need to meet the moment head-on. These policy solutions include the Housing Access Voucher Program, allowing our state to house currently unhoused people and significantly expand funding for immigration legal services and adult literacy programs to help the newest New Yorkers get to work more quickly.

Immigrants are essential to ensuring our communities and economy thrive, and forcing them into dehumanizing conditions is an inhumane political choice that impacts all of us. Every New Yorker deserves access to public services and support to help them build a stable, safe life for themselves and their families. Providing everyone access to public programs such as housing vouchers and healthcare isn’t just morally sound public policy; it’s good economic policy and can save our city and state billions of dollars.

State Senator Kristen Gonzalez represents Senate District 59, spanning Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan.

Theo Oshiro is co-executive director of Make the Road New York.