In case you missed it, Mayor De Blasio last week signed some landmark legislation into law that will change the definition of “access” for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in New York City. It’s called the municipal ID program and it’s designed to provide illegal immigrants and other disenfranchised groups with easy-to-get identification cards, allowing them to open bank accounts, check out library books, and attend school. It sounds good enough, but as always, there is some controversy. Here’s everything you need to know about the new program and how it will change the city.
What are the origins of the municipal ID program?
On a broader level the municipal ID card has its origins in New Haven, Connecticut, where the first city-issued IDs were created in 2007. Since then, the trend has spread to various cities throughout the U.S., including San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Oakland, CA. Legislation was only introduced in New York earlier this year by City Council Members Daniel Dromm and Carlos Menchaca. After months of deliberation, the ID bill was signed into law by Mayor De Blasio on Thursday, July 10.
Why are these cards so important?
The importance of the cards lies in who can access them: undocumented immigrants. As the Times puts it, these cards will allow for the “documenting of the undocumented.” Identification is extremely important in day-to-day life. It’s not just how you get into bars; it’s how you gain access to public buildings with security, it’s how you open a bank account.
How will people get access to the cards?
Residents (of any citizenship status) will apply by providing the city with identifying paperwork such as a foreign passport, proof that they have a child in a public school or even a utility bill. From there, a card will be issued and the city will hold onto non-expired, identifying documents—many of which will contain sensitive, private information—for no more than two years. The list of acceptable documents is still being worked out. If law enforcement wants access to these documents, they will have to secure a court order. Once residents receive their cards, they’ll have greater access to libraries, public buildings and transportation (i.e. Citi Bike) as well as some other benefits like possible discounts at restaurants and museums.
What are the greatest obstacles to the success of the program?
There are a couple of potential and fully-realized obstacles, so let’s go through them one by one.
(1) The NYPD. A primary feature of this card is that it will allow those carrying them to identify themselves to the police and avoid being detained over a lack of ID. However, the NYPD and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton are extremely wary of the cards, citing worries that people may begin using them fraudulently or for other, as-yet-unidentified nefarious purposes.
(2) Banks. Mayor De Blasio hopes the card will become an acceptable form of identification at banks throughout the city, allowing municipal ID carriers to open bank accounts and avoid carrying around large amounts of cash, which makes them vulnerable targets for robbery and assault. The problem is that banks are some of the most tightly regulated institutions in the United States and may are wary of accepting ID cards that don’t require the same stringent background checks as banks and the federal government do. The New York Bankers Association and the city are in talks to work this out.
(3) Non-immigrants. Like the new Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, the success of this program depends largely on people who don’t need it using it anyway. If only illegal immigrants apply for and carry the cards, the IDs will become a way of identifying them, which directly endangers their desire to keep their immigration status under wraps. So, it’s very, very important that non-immigrants also apply for the cards. That includes the elderly, the disabled, transgender individuals, those without driver’s licenses and anyone else who needs a solid form of ID. In a way, these people will protect those who are here illegally from being too easily identified.
(4) The New York Civil Liberties Union. Shortly before the final version of the bill went public, the NYCLU pulled its support for the legislation over privacy concerns, saying:
In this bill, the city has not done enough to protect those documents from being used by law enforcement. The NYPD, FBI, DHS and others can request these documents without having to show probable cause. And if they are requested, the city has no obligation to even notify the person so they might be able to defend their own privacy. For these reasons, the NYCLU regretfully cannot support this legislation.
This goes back to the NYPD. All law enforcement officials need is a court order, not a warrant, to gain access to the private, sensitive documents that will be used to create the IDs.
When will the program begin?
The program is set to launch in early 2015 and will be the largest municipal ID program in the United States.
Follow Nikita Richardson on Twitter @nikitarbk