Around 7 in the morning one day last August, the first migrants sent to New York by the governor of Texas arrived with little warning on a bus, and entered sleepily into their new life.
They joined others who moved into shelters, then hotels, then white tents on an island in the East River and, as more came, into empty office buildings and school gymnasiums. They enrolled their children in nearby schools, ate boxed meals served by the city, and dressed in discarded pants and shirts donated by volunteers.
By June, the city counted more than 80,000 newcomers. About half moved into public shelters, and the city’s shelter system reached 100,000 that month. City officials added up the costs of housing them: about $4.3 billion by next summer. Mayor Eric Adams pleaded for federal help, scorned President Biden and warned the city was “destroyed.”
But unseen and unheard were economists and social scientists, who point out that the immediate controversy overshadowed an established truth: The city was built by waves of migrants who settled, paid taxes, strengthened the workforce, started businesses and generally uplifted the communities. they joined
This latter group would do the same, they argued.
Without immigrants, New York would shrink. Even if New York never recovers what it is spending now, economists and historians say, the migrants will eventually be good for the city.
“In so many ways, immigrants have always made and remade America,” said Nancy Foner, an immigration historian at Hunter College. “And they’re doing it again.”
Some newcomers have already begun to remake their lives, and the city around them. They include Pedro Perez, a migrant from Venezuela who is fluent in English, and who on Monday morning was studying for the SAT and planning his applications to elite universities.
“My dream is to graduate from Princeton and be a lawyer,” Mr. Perez, 22, said.
They include Wilfredo Yanez, 29, who arrived from Venezuela on Friday and had a job at a construction site in Manhattan on Tuesday.
“I didn’t want to be a burden on the city, or dependent on them for help,” said Mr. Yanez.
And there’s Belsy Antolinez, who uses a tiny blue scooter to deliver food all over town and shares an apartment with other migrants in Corona, Queens, where she raises her three children.
“My dream is to have a restaurant because what I love most is cooking,” said Ms. Antolinez, 35.
Like most migrants who arrive in New York, these three needed help when they first arrived, but were impatient to become self-sufficient.
“Yes, for a while, maybe some of them need some help,” said Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California, Davis. “But if you take a deep breath, you see that American cities will benefit from these people who come to work.”
In the long run, economists and historians see a familiar picture: A spike in immigration sparks heated political debate, even as people who immigrate, both legally and illegally, begin to take root and begin to contribute economically.
“Immigration is integral to the nation’s economic growth,” according to the National Academy of Sciences a report published by 29 of the nation’s leading economists and demographers.
“It’s very hard to find an economist who doesn’t think that,” said Tara Watson, an economist at Williams College.
Within this broad consensus lies a narrow band of disagreement. Economists including Mr. Peri point to decades of research that finds migrants either improve wages for native-born workers in the United States, or have no effect at all.
Gordon Hanson, an economist at Harvard University, says, however, that migrants can reduce the wages of native workers, but only in certain cities and economic conditions. These negative effects fall disproportionately on Americans with less education, earlier immigrants and Black workers.
But, Mr. Hanson said, he still agrees about the larger economic benefits.
“I think the most important thing is that we would agree on the headline statement that immigration is a net positive for America,” he said.
The path of Mrs. Antolinez and her husband, Darwin Valbuena, already follows the expectations of economists about migrants. The family fled from San Cristobal, a small town in Venezuela, more than a year and a half ago, after the bodega they owned was hit by robbers. Mrs. Antolinez was seven months pregnant.
After crossing into California, the couple applied for asylum, flew to LaGuardia airport, and in January 2022 moved into the two-bedroom apartment of Rut Ostos, an evangelical pastor who married them back home.
Now, with hustle and a little help, the family has gained a foothold in New York.
A member of Ms. Ostos’ church offered the Valbuenas a four-bedroom apartment in Corona, which they rent with two other families. Mr. Valbuena, a former professional soccer player, has two soccer coaching jobs and plans to open his own soccer academy.
“It was hard to leave everything behind to start a new one in a country we didn’t know,” said Mr. Valbuena, 37. “But that’s how we are, we’re always working.”
Mr. Valbuena, however, has some advantages that many migrants do not enjoy. In addition to a place to stay, he has a university degree and a temporary permit allowing him to work.
Others seeking asylum may not be successful. They will become undocumented immigrants who generally receive lower wages and thus pay lower amounts in taxes, Hanson and Peri said. They will also face greater risks of exploitation and, possibly, deportation. A housing shortage has made it especially difficult for people — New Yorkers and newcomers alike — to find permanent homes.
And many newcomers arrived without connections to help them navigate a challenging city, at least at first.
But the arrival of thousands of migrants, regardless of their legal status or education, comes at an ideal time to address the city’s demographic problems, experts said. Nearly half a million residents left New York between 2020 and 2023, a 5 percent drop, according to to the Census Bureau.
College graduates and families with children left the city in record numbers. New York’s population of undocumented workers has also declined, by approx 60,000 during the decade ending in 2018.
Those declines are bad for the economy, according to to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. The Trump administration’s policies to reduce immigration, combined with the drop in immigrant arrivals caused by the coronavirus pandemic, have left two million “missed migrants,” Mr. Peri said. found.
“We’re seeing some more immigrants coming in, but we’re just kind of reaching the dramatic halt” in immigration in recent years, Mr. Peri said.
The situation echoes the 1970s, when an influx of immigrants saved New York from economic collapse as businesses and white middle-class families left the city, said Tom Wright, executive director of the Regional Planning Association.
“The most successful public policy in New York in the 1970s was openness to immigration,” Mr. Wright said. “If not for that, New York may have ended up on a trajectory similar to Detroit.”
If not for immigrants, the entire metropolitan area would have lost 600,000 people between 2000 and 2006, according to Ms. Foner.
Currently, New York is facing a labor shortage and needs 10,000 bar and restaurant workers, while the state needs 40,000 home health aides and 70,000 nurses and nursing assistantsaccording to researchers and industry groups.
A growing job shortage is due in part to the demographics of the American population, which at 38.9 years is the oldest median age in the nation’s history.
In just one sector — construction companies in New York State — the retirement of middle-aged workers may cause jobs to more than triple to more than 150,000 in the next five years, said Brian Sampson, president of the Empire State chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors. , a business group.
Immigrants will be crucial to filling those vacant positions, industry leaders said.
“Immigrants tend to come in at prime working age, so they fill exactly where we have a shortage,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of the Immigration Research Initiative, a nonpartisan think tank.
Not all new migrants will stay. Some have already left for other parts of the country or for Canada, which has encouraged legal migration to boost its economy.
The faster immigrants find their own jobs and housing, the sooner they can help newer immigrants, said Neeraj Kaushal, a professor at Columbia University’s School of Social Work who studies immigration.
Mr. Valbuena is doing his part. Recently he met some newcomers to the city: Mateo Miño, 14, and his aunt Cristina, who came from Quito, Ecuador.
On his second day in town, Matthew experienced a panic attack. He arrived after a trip in which he witnessed the attack of his aunt Cristina in Mexico, and then spent three months in an American refugee camp for migrant youth.
Fortunately, the anxiety attack happened at Mrs. Ostos’ church in Long Island City, Queens. Cristina, who asked that her last name not be published because she fears reprisals from her attackers, learned about the church at the shelter where the family lives.
Ms. Ostos suggested that Miño get involved in soccer through Mr. Valbuena’s team. Cristina started volunteering at the church. She also found work selling food on the street and is looking for something more stable.
“I had nothing,” Cristina said of her arrival in New York. Until, she added, “I found a community that helped me.”