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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Times
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Available Soon for People Needing ID: City-Issued Cards

If a police officer asks him for identification, Juan Carlos Gomez, an undocumented immigrant from Colombia, has nothing to show. He often cannot rent an apartment for lack of documentation; a friend has to do it for him.

And if he needs to fill a prescription, he is out of luck: Two years ago when he was prescribed medicine to deal with a severe allergy, a pharmacist refused to dispense the drug because Mr. Gomez could not prove he was Mr. Gomez.

“It’s simple things like that,” he said in an interview on Thursday in front of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza. “You have to be in the shadows because of this situation.”

Mr. Gomez, 50, had come to the library to witness as Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law a bill that would put an end to many of the obstacles that undocumented immigrants and other city residents have had to navigate for lack of official government identification. The law, which Mr. de Blasio made a priority of his administration, creates a New York municipal identification card that will be made available to any resident of the city, including immigrants like Mr. Gomez who are in the country illegally.

“There’s an advertisement we’ve seen many times, all of us, and the tag line is, ‘What’s in your wallet?’ ” the mayor said during the signing ceremony, which unfolded Thursday afternoon on the sun-soaked plaza of the library. “For so many New Yorkers, proper ID is not in their wallet and that means a lot for their day to day lives.”

The law makes New York the largest municipality in the nation to introduce such a plan, following several other cities, including Los Angeles, New Haven and San Francisco.

Mr. de Blasio said that the program was particularly important for New York, not just because of its large population of undocumented immigrants, but also because about half of all residents 16 years and older do not have driver’s licenses, a common form of government identification elsewhere in the country.

The new card, which will include the bearer’s photograph, will be accepted at all city agencies as proof of identity and residency. This would enable those who have no other form of local government identification to access city services as basic as checking out books at the library. City officials also said on Thursday that they were talking with banks and other private institutions about expanding the benefits associated with the card, such as being able to use it to open a savings account.

City officials said they expected to begin issuing the cards in January and will be sorting out details, including a fraud-resistant design, in the coming months.

The law has been celebrated by a broad array of groups, particularly immigrant-service providers but also advocates for other populations who might find it difficult to get identification cards, such as homeless people. The plan has been embraced just as emphatically by transgender people, who will be able to declare their preferred gender, many for the first time, on an official government-issued ID.

But amid a resounding chorus of support, a prominent civil rights group has sounded a notably discordant note. The New York Civil Liberties Union declared this week that it was opposed to the law, saying it did not provide enough protections against investigative fishing expeditions by law enforcement agencies.

Under the law, the city will store documents containing applicants’ personal information for up to two years. The information will be treated as confidential, according to the law, and may only be disclosed under specific conditions such as when a law enforcement agency serves a judicial subpoena or warrant.

But Johanna Miller, the advocacy director of the Civil Liberties Union, said those provisions were not strong enough to protect applicants’ privacy.

“While the N.Y.C. ID will bring benefits to many people, we are disappointed that the city is inviting New Yorkers to gamble with the stakes as high as prosecution or even deportation,” she said in a statement.

City officials said that in order to secure the New York Police Department’s acceptance of the card, the bill had to allow for the city to store those documents to enable fraud investigations by the police. In addition, they said, the law calls for quarterly reports by the city analyzing all aspects of the program, including the number of requests by law enforcement agencies for applicants’ personal documents.

“We’re going to keep tabs on every single access point from N.Y.P.D. so we can observe if there are any abuses,” said Carlos Menchaca, a city councilman and a co-sponsor of the bill.

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