As a regional manager at Bethpage Federal Credit Union, I see it every day: immigrants starting businesses on Long Island, creating jobs and bolstering the ranks of our workforce.
On April 20, however, I realized I’m not the only one noticing. At the Long Island Regional Immigration Summit, I joined industry stakeholders from agribusiness, health care, education and the nonprofit sector to discuss how we on Long Island can strengthen our increasingly diverse communities and ensure the sustainability of our region in the coming years and decades.
The broad show of support was inspiring, and the effort even received the blessing of former President Bill Clinton, who spoke of our region’s economic sustainability in a video address to attendees.
“Long Island has the potential to become the nation’s model of diversity, but the potential can only be met if Long Island addresses the policies that impact its growing populations of Latino, African-American and Asian communities,” Clinton said. “Students from these diverse backgrounds are Long Island’s future entrepreneurs, employees and executives, but today we’re not giving them the skills they need to succeed.”
That message resonated for me. Not only do I understand the immigrant experience through my work at the credit union, I’m a Dominican immigrant myself, brought to Long Island by parents looking to work hard and find a better life for our family. I’ve seen firsthand some of the issues addressed at the summit, like segregated schools and a lack of affordable housing, and how those problems make it hard for newcomers to put down roots.
That has to change. We need to maximize immigrant contributions, to everyone’s benefit. Bethpage Federal Credit Union has made a commitment to working with immigrant residents, and part of the reason for that is that we know what an important role immigrant business owners play in our economy.
This summit was a groundbreaking effort, but much more lies ahead. More than ever before, prominent leaders on Long Island are acknowledging the correlation between immigration and a strong economy. Together we can prepare to work to identify opportunities for change, and to make our area more welcoming to immigrants and the economic power they bring.
Infante is regional manager at Bethpage Federal Credit Union.