JPod: You’re right that the arguments about latte, etc., are off the mark, but there is a germ of a point there. A century ago, New York defined the immigrant experience; today it’s an outlier, and what you see on the streets of the city is no longer representative of immigration anywhere else in the country. Obviously, no place is just like another, but even your example about illegal immigration shows how New York is different; illegal aliens account for fully one-third of foreign-born population nationwide, but only 10 percent in New York. Also, the large, and unique, concentration of Puerto Ricans changes things — they’re immigrants in every cultural and sociological respect, but since we (mistakenly) accorded them citizenship in 1917, they are not immigrants in a legal sense.
Maybe the most important difference between New York and the rest of the country with regard to immigration is the radically greater degree of diversity than in any other large immigrant-receiving state. We did a paper a while back which, among other things, pulled out the top 15 countries of origin of immigrants in each state in 2000. The share of the total immigrant population that the top sending country accounted for made New York very different: California’s immigrant population was 44 percent Mexican, Texas 65 percent Mexican, Illinois 40 percent Mexican, Florida 25 percent Cuban, but New York only 11 percent Dominican. New Jersey is the only major immigrant state that’s similar, with its largest group (Indians) accounting for only 8 percent, but that sort of makes my point, since it’s sort of an extension of New York (please, no outraged e-mails). And not only was there no single group that dominated the immigrant population in New York, but the largest sending countries were more diverse than anywhere else; the top source was Hispanic (the D.R.), the second Asian (greater China), the third white (former USSR, basically Russian Jews), and the fourth black (Jamaica).
Nat Glazer once told me that the problem with immigration enthusiasts was that “they think it’s still New York in the 1950s.” In fact, most of the country isn’t even New York in the 2000s. The point is not that New Yorkers can’t comment on immigration, but rather that they need to do so with the knowledge that what they see is a relatively small, unrepresentative share of the modern immigration experience.