Over the last 20 years, thousands of documented and undocumented immigrants moved into the town of Port Chester, New York. Most were from Central and South America. They changed the town.
Because many were undocumented, they had to use ways of living that went around the laws and usual practices. They coped with the problems of having come across borders or overstayed visas.
To open businesses, they borrowed money from friends and relatives, not banks. They could not get driver’s licenses so they took buses and rides from friends. They did not have social security numbers so they paid taxes using ID’s issued by the I.R.S.
They brought new life to Port Chester, a town of 29,000 that was sinking because factories and mills had closed.
Today, more than half the town’s population is of Hispanic origin.
Many observers say that Port Chester is a good example of the positive effect of immigration. A conservative economist says, “We need more legal immigration. Additional human capital results in more growth.” Another expert says, “No doubt some individuals are harmed, but the benefits outweigh the costs.” In the new immigration bill, immigrants may be able to get provisional status long before they get a green card. This will make life easier for them to travel and work legally.
A close look shows that problems are also part of the picture. Migrants are willing to work at the lowest wages. This affects native-born lower-skilled workers. The schools are overcrowded. There are houses that are occupied by more people than are legal. There is poverty and strains on social services.
The lesson of Port Chester is that friends and foes of immigration can find things to support their views. But as a Port Chester official said, “Immigrants are the lifeblood of the town. I don’t know where we would be without them.”