While crime was among the animating issues of the 2022 election cycle in New York, it’s looking more and more likely that immigration will be front and center during the upcoming 2024 cycle. 

Because of that dynamic, there is a new effort among a coalition of groups, including unions, faith groups and the business community, to spotlight the benefits that immigrants bring to New York state.  

The goal of the Ellis Island Initiative is to ensure that the public is aware that the 140,000 asylum seekers who have traveled to New York over the past year and half are seen as an economic boon.  

According to Steven Choi, the former executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, and a leading organizer with the Ellis Island Initiative, the group’s mission is driven by an overarching belief.  

“Immigration has been good for America. Immigration has been good for New York state. Immigration is going to be good for local communities from Schenectady to Smithtown,” he told Capital Tonight.

And Choi is looking beyond political cliches like Democrats support immigration and Republicans don’t.

“We’ve actually brought together Republicans and Democrats, and we’ve said, look — the way in which immigrants and asylum seekers were resettled has been a bit problematic. It’s caused a lot of challenges. What can we do to bring together stakeholders and create smart, integrated strategies for them?” he asked. “There’s too many people trying to score cheap political points.”

The practical goals of the Ellis Island Initiative include:

  • Finding where jobs are available
  • Understanding the workforce needs
  • Training the workforce

Choi also wants the state’s $2 billion investment to pay dividends to local residents by creating jobs they can fill to support the effort.

“To be able to provide food. To be able to provide transportation. All that is needed,” he explained. “How do we create a mechanism? How do we create a vehicle for people who actually want to do that?”

The goals of the initiative won’t be easy. A Siena poll released in August showed that 46% of New Yorkers view immigrants as a burden on the economy, while only 32% view them as a benefit. 

When asked about the bleak numbers from the Siena poll, Choi acknowledged the influx of migrants has caused problems, but he’s optimistic.

“The tide is turning a little bit. People are actually able to think, OK, what are our workforce needs? We are hearing from employers who say, 'I can keep my business open longer. I can generate more jobs for local residents if I just had the workforce,'” Choi said. “When people start to hear those messages, their minds actually change.”