New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed legislation to create a municipal identification card for Caribbean and other immigrants living in the city, including undocumented persons.
“Even for those who already have IDs, we’re going to make sure that this card brings a lot to the equation, a lot of benefits that will go with it,” said de Blasio, whose wife, Chirlane, traces her roots to Barbados. “But for those who don’t have ID, it’s going to be crucial,” he said when signing on to the new law Thursday.
The municipal identification card is meant to ease access to New York City services for illegal immigrants and others. When rolled out in early 2015, the city’s ID system will be the largest programme of its kind in the US, offering a photo identification card with less stringent documentation standards than driver’s licences or state IDs.
Cities such as New Haven, Connecticut; Los Angeles; San Francisco; and Oakland, California have launched similar programmes.
De Blasio has made the ID card one of his signature initiatives, saying reliable identification is necessary to make the city’s libraries, schools and other core services more accessible to groups such as illegal immigrants, homeless New Yorkers, and transgender people.
As he signed the legislation, de Blasio said a lack of ID has made life difficult for the city’s estimated half-million illegal immigrants. “We are going to change that, once and for all,” he said.
Calling New York “a beacon of hope and inclusion”, the Mayor said the city ID would serve as a national example on immigration reform, “since we so often can’t depend on our federal Government”.
But launching the programme successfully could be tricky.
City officials are pushing large banks to allow the cards to be used to open accounts, making it useful to illegal immigrants who often do not have accounts and are sometimes targeted by criminals because they tend to carry large amounts of cash. Michael Smith, the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the New York Bankers Association, said the ID programme would have to meet federal criteria meant to prevent fraud and terrorism in order for banks to accept the card. For example, a non-US citizen must provide documents such as a tax ID number, a passport number, an alien ID card number and an unexpired photo ID from his or her country of origin.
“These regulations are stringently enforced,” Smith said.
Smith said his group has met with the de Blasio Administration and that banks are willing to work with the city to make sure the ID satisfies the requirements. City officials said they had yet to finalise the list of documents needed to apply for the ID. They have said it is likely to include documents like a utility bill, or a document stating the person has a child enrolled in public school, and a kind of photo-identification such as a foreign passport.
A spokeswoman for de Blasio said the municipal ID would meet the federal rules, saying the city would not accept expired documents, for example, and would provide a unique number for each card holder. Another concern is making sure the IDs are widely adopted, so they do not become an indicator of immigration status.
The New York Civil Liberties Union declined to back the final version of the bill passed by the City Council last month, saying it could backfire – leaving illegal immigrants’ personal information accessible to law enforcement.
“While the ID will likely have great benefits for many New Yorkers, it is ultimately an invitation to gamble with the stakes as high as prosecution or even deportation,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
De Blasio Administration officials said those concerns are overblown. “It’s not going to be a card that’s a telltale sign of immigration status,” said Nisha Agarwal, the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, which is rolling out the programme. “The information is going to be very secure.”
Agarwal said the programme will be run by the Human Resources Administration, the agency that handles the city’s welfare caseload and the sensitive personal information needed to get public benefits.
Among the safeguards is a requirement that the information submitted in applications for the ID must be destroyed after two years, for example. City officials said law enforcement agencies would be able obtain the information only with a court order.