Recently, Rockland County Executive Ed Day and U.S. Congressional Representative Mike Lawler attempted to block NYC Mayor Eric Adams’ effort to relocate 340 federally vetted asylum seekers to Orangeburg. Unfortunately, this has led to falsehoods, misrepresentations, and racist and dangerous stereotypes being circulated as a way to distract our community from a real conversation about real crises. In response, on May 9, Proyecto Faro (PF) met with individuals and representatives of 24 county organizations to voice our concerns and call on Rockland County to stop spreading divisive language and instead collaborate with local organizations working directly with immigrants to identify and implement actual solutions. Some of these organizations are unable to take a public stance as they fear retaliation in the way of slashed funding.
Immigrants Contribute to Communities. They are Neither Burdens Nor Threats
Much of the recent local discourse has portrayed immigrants as burdens on Rockland County. This is a completely inaccurate representation. Though ineligible to receive most public benefits, undocumented immigrants pay taxes. In 2018, undocumented immigrants in the United States paid an estimated $20.1 billion in federal taxes and $11.8 billion in combined state and local taxes. In New York State, immigrants contribute over $1.4 billion in state and local taxes annually.1 Research consistently shows they generally do not take jobs from native-born residents; rather, they do the many difficult jobs documented people and citizens don’t want to do for very low wages. Immigrants are also a large consumer block contributing to local commerce. Rockland-based businesses have relied heavily on and been enriched by immigrant labor for decades.
Asylum seekers have repeatedly been referred to as “illegal,” which — besides being a term that perpetuates dehumanization — is false. Seeking asylum is a human and legal right. These asylees have had Credible Fear Screenings or Asylum Merit Interviews at the border. Some have voiced concern about asylees being housed near a school. However this fear is built on an incorrect stereotype. Immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes than native-born citizens. Research shows high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime, regardless of documentation status.2 Worse than misrepresentations is Day and Lawler’s use of racist language. Day stated: “Within that cadre of people who are coming here, who are not vetted, we have child rapists, we have criminals, we have MS-13.”3 These are racist stereotypes of immigrants of color, providing fuel and cover for bigoted vigilantes and our community members have already experienced attacks and intimidation stemming from this recent rhetoric. Elected officials have a responsibility to keep all residents safe and not sow further division.
Migration Will Continue; Let’s Make Rockland a Welcoming Place
Immigration has steadily been increasing for years resulting from “push” factors such as political and economic instability and climate crises forcing people from their homelands. Effective policies allow us to be better equipped for a natural migration that is already happening and approach it with compassion and humanity. There is, without doubt, an enormous need for resources to support these immigrants. Given this, Day’s effort to prevent the County from receiving resources through this NYC-funded program is irrational and counterproductive. We should recognize the benefit of this program, and gratefully receive the funding NYC is making available to municipalities outside of the five boroughs,
and work together to access additional needed funds.
The Real State of Emergency
While we are in a state of emergency, the true emergency is not the so-called threat of a few hundred federally-vetted asylum seekers coming with funding. The real emergency is the thousands of immigrants in Rockland being exploited and subject to wage theft, living in crowded and dangerous homes, struggling with food insecurity due to high rents and low wages, and the crushing failure of the East Ramapo Central School District which serve Black and Brown students, the majority of whom are immigrants.
We, the undersigned, and allies who met with us on May 9, all want to help with waves of new arrivals coming to Rockland. Collectively and in open dialogue, we can propose and implement constructive solutions as a community, in keeping with the values of our various organizations. To this end, we demand our elected officials include all stakeholder and community-based organizations to transparently problem-solve together. We demand organizations not be retaliated against for holding different opinions, but instead be seen as necessary partners. Additionally, if Lawler succeeds in securing federal funding to support Rockland’s immigrants, we demand that community groups led by and working with immigrants be involved in a participatory process of allocating funds, so they get to the people in need with as little overhead as possible. We demand our elected representatives apologize to Rockland’s immigrants for using offensive, dangerous language and tropes, cease using such language, and commit to repairing the harm they’ve caused by working for all who choose to make Rockland their home.
We envision a Rockland with plentiful affordable housing, where we have eradicated homelessness and food insecurity, where undocumented people have safety nets like social services and unemployment insurance, where immigrants have safe workplaces with fair wages, and where students regardless of race, class, or immigration status receive a quality education.
Immigrants will continue to choose to live in Rockland County. All Rockland municipalities, businesses, and residents have a vested interest in welcoming immigrants because they will continue to play a key role in our labor force and consumer and tax base, as well as enrich our communities socially and culturally. Migration is natural, immigration is a human right, and all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Immigration is an international challenge and every community must contribute to solutions.
1 Neighbors’ Link citing The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Social Security Administration, American Immigration Council, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
2Neighbors’ Link citing American Immigration Council, Cato Institute
3Ed Day to radio host Rob Astorino on WABC-770 AM May 7, 2023
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