FACT SHEET

A Profile of Black Undocumented Immigrants in New York City and Estimates of Those Potentially Eligible for Permanent Residence under Pending Bills

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A Demographic Profile of Black Undocumented Immigrants in New York City and Estimates of Those Potentially Eligible for Permanent Residence under Pending Bills

The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) provides estimates of the undocumented population in the United States, populations that are eligible for special legal status programs, and those that would be eligible for permanent residence (legalization) under pending bills.[1] According to CMS estimates, there are approximately 10,348,900 undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Black immigrants constitute about 6 percent of this total undocumented population. Our findings show that the vast majority of Black undocumented immigrants arrived from the Caribbean (67 percent) and Africa (25 percent), with the top countries of origin being Jamaica, accounting for more than one-third of the population, followed by Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti. Over half of this population now resides in five states: Florida (21 percent), New York (12 percent), Texas (12 percent), New Jersey (6 percent), and Maryland (6 percent).

The Distribution of Black Undocumented Immigrants by State

 

CMS estimates show approximately 71,700 Black undocumented immigrants live in New York State, out of which 83 percent live in New York City (NYC). As Figure 1 illustrates, the years with the highest number of arrivals were 2015 and 2016.  A closer look at the Black undocumented population living in New York City shows that this population is already well-integrated in the city with 48.8 percent having lived in the United States for 10 years or more and 93.5 percent speaking English well, very well, or only English.

Figure 1

Credit: Center for Migration Studies

CMS estimates that 79 percent of Black undocumented immigrants in New York City have completed high school, and 93 percent of those in the labor force are employed. They work in the following sectors:

  • 9 percent in the service sector;
  • 9 percent in production, transportation, and material moving;
  • 6 percent in technical, sales, and administrative support;
  • 12 percent in natural resources, construction, and maintenance; and
  • 6 percent in managerial and professional specialties.

However, among the Black undocumented immigrants in New York City, 15 percent still live below the poverty level, 32 percent do not have health insurance coverage, and only 25 percent own a house.

Figure 2 shows the occupational breakdown of this group by their year of arrival in the United States. The high share of recent arrivals working in services and low share working in managerial and professional jobs may indicate that some immigrants prioritize finding a job quickly upon arrival over finding a job that best matches their skill set.

Figure 2

Credit: Center for Migration Studies

CMS estimates of the number of Black undocumented immigrants living in New York City that could be eligible for permanent residence under pending bills and special legal status programs are presented in Table 1. The American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 (ADPA) provides undocumented residents who entered the United States at 18 years of age or younger, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, with conditional permanent residence, removal of conditions on permanent residence, adjustment of status for nationals of designated countries for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) if they meet certain criteria.[2] Our findings show that all Black immigrants in New York City who are eligible for conditional permanent residence or the removal of conditions on permanent residence under ADPA have completed high school and speak English well, very well, or only English. A large percentage of those eligible for conditional permanent residence has been living in the United States for 15 years or more (79 percent) and have income above the poverty level (90 percent). For those eligible for the removal of conditions on permanent residence, the vast majority have lived in New York City for 15 years or more (96 percent) and all have an income above the poverty level.

Our estimates suggest that undocumented immigrants eligible for DACA are overall long-term residents, have completed their secondary education, are active in the labor market, and are living above the poverty level.  They seem to be well-established both socially and economically in the United States and ready to thrive with the opportunities that legal status would bring. Of those eligible for ADPA via these two channels, more than half (52 percent and 54 percent respectively) have at least some college education. The security of life and additional job opportunities that legalization will offer will incentivize this group towards even higher educational attainment.

The Dream Act of 2021 provides conditional permanent residence and removal of conditions on permanent residence for undocumented immigrants who were younger than 18 years of age on the date of US entry, have been continuously physically present in the United States for four years preceding the bill’s enactment, and meet educational and other requirements specified in the bill. [3] The population who are eligible for conditional permanent residence and the removal of conditions on permanent residence under the Dream Act of 2021 have similar characteristics to those eligible under ADPA, with the exception that they have overall lived in the United States for a shorter length of time, with just 43 percent living in the United States for 15 years or more. Even so, their high levels of English proficiency and basic education put them in a good position to integrate socially and economically.

Many Black undocumented immigrants in New York City, including the more recent arrivals, work in essential jobs. Out of the 59,700 undocumented Black immigrants living in New York City, approximately 30,300 are eligible for the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, which provides lawful permanent resident status to those who have worked essential jobs during the pandemic and their spouses, parents, and children, as well as to the spouses, parents, and children of immigrants who performed essential labor and died from COVID-19.[4] Only 47 percent of essential workers eligible for permanent resident status have resided in the United States for 15 years or more, yet 93 percent speak English well, very well, or only English. Furthermore, 81 percent have finished high school, and 37 percent have attended at least some college.  The results suggest that a large number of Black undocumented immigrants have taken on the critical task of responsibility sharing and supporting their local communities in a time of need.

An estimated 500 Black immigrants in New York City would be eligible to legalize under the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021, which would provide undocumented farmworkers and their family members with a path to legal immigration status and citizenship.[5] This group is on average less educated and has a lower English proficiency compared to those eligible for legalization under other pending bills. Many immigrants in this group arrived in the United States more recently, with only 30 percent having lived in the United States for 15 years or more. Therefore, this group may need more help accessing the services and support they need to apply for permanent residency.

CMS estimates indicate that all Black undocumented immigrants in New York City would be prima facie eligible for a legalization program if Congress passes the US Citizenship Act of 2021, which would provide lawful prospective immigrant (LPI) status to undocumented immigrants who were physically present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021. [6] After 5 years under the LPI status, eligible noncitizens could apply for permanent resident status. Ninety-six percent of DACA recipients and childhood arrivals who would be eligible for lawful permanent resident under this bill are long-term residents, and all are proficient in English. All have completed high school, and more than half have attended college. Even so, homeownership for all of the groups analyzed remains low. For many, the uncertainty of their status may make it hard to make big investment decisions such as buying a house.

There is a large number of undocumented immigrants who are eligible to legalize their status under pending bills. Passing these bills would legalize the overwhelming majority of Black undocumented immigrants in New York City. Legal status will facilitate social and economic integration, reduce the risk of marginalization caused by lack of status, and offer undocumented immigrants the security to invest in their lives, their families, and their communities. In the meantime, local communities should continue to build the necessary partnerships, capacities, and skills needed to implement a legalization program and assist immigrants with their immigration applications and adjustment of status.

Table 1

Note: Numbers are rounded to the nearest hundreds. Source: Center for Migration Studies. Estimates derived from data collected in the 2019 ACS; see Appendix in Warren (2021) (Warren, Robert. 2021. “In 2019, the US Undocumented Population Continued a Decade-Long Decline and the Foreign-Born Population Neared Zero Growth.” Journal on Migration and Human Security: 9(1): 31-43. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2331502421993746.) for methods of estimation. Source of ACS data: Steven Ruggles, Sarah Flood, Sophia Foster, Ronald Goeken, Jose Pacas, Megan Schouweiler, and Matthew Sobek. IPUMS USA: Version 11.0 [dataset]. Minneapolis, MN: IPUMS, 2021. https://doi.org/10.18128/D010.V11.0.


[1] Kerwin, Donald, José Pacas, and Robert Warren. 2021. Ready to Stay: A Comprehensive Analysis of the US Foreign-Born Populations Eligible for Special Legal Status Programs and for Legalization under Pending Bills. Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) Report. New York, NY: CMS.

[2] American Dream and Promise Act, H.R. 6, 117th Cong. (2021-2022). https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/6

[3] Dream Act of 2021, S. 264, 117th Cong. (2021-2022). https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/264

[4] Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, S. 747, 117th Cong. (2021-2022). https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/747

[5] Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021, H.R. 1603, 117th Cong. (2021-2022). https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/1603?s=1&r=76

[6] US Citizenship Act of 2021. H.R. 1177 and S. 348, 117th Cong. (2021-2022). https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/1177


February 16, 2022