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

Cover Story: De Blasio Plans a Minimum Wage and City ID Cards

Mayor Bill de Blasio charted a robust liberal agenda for New York City on Monday, pledging to bypass Washington to address economic and social disparities by expanding benefits for illegal immigrants and pressing for a higher local minimum wage.

In his first State of the City address, Mr. de Blasio said New York would become the largest municipality to offer identification cards to residents regardless of their legal status, making it easier for undocumented immigrants to open bank accounts, lease apartments or borrow library books.

And he vowed to bring New York in line with other liberal strongholds, like San Francisco and Washington, that already set their own minimum wage, although Mr. de Blasio will need approval from legislators in Albany to enact his version.

In promising to move quickly with his plans, the mayor made clear that he had lost patience with federal lawmakers, whose efforts to enact similar policies have stagnated, and that he was undaunted by the resistance he is already encountering among officials in the State Capitol.

“We cannot wait for Washington to act,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We will not let the gridlock there — or even the limits of Albany — serve as an excuse for New York City to roll over and ignore our mission.”

Mr. de Blasio is hoping to follow in the steps of other local leaders who have brought about liberal reforms in the face of congressional gridlock. Seattle’s new mayor is pushing a measure to make the city’s minimum wage among the highest in the nation. Mr. de Blasio’s proposal of municipal ID cards for undocumented immigrants, novel in New York, is based on similar measures already in place in several other municipalities around the country, including New Haven, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Mayor de Blasio said he and the City Council, whose new leaders are closely aligned with him, would also work to expand New York’s “living wage” law to cover tens of thousands of workers whose employers receive city subsidies.

In substance and rhetoric, the mayor’s speech outlined a City Hall devoted to repairing the inequalities that he said had frayed the city’s social fabric. Summing up his approach, Mr. de Blasio invoked Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia’s ideal of “government with a soul.”

Still, for all its liberal loft, the address also reinforced Mr. de Blasio’s vulnerabilities: a tendency to propose plans anathema to crucial Albany lawmakers who must approve them, and a vagueness that has raised concerns about how the mayor can deliver on his promises.

As mayor, Mr. de Blasio, a former political operative, has so far overseen a campaign-style operation at City Hall, and his address on Monday more closely resembled a restatement of his usual themes than an airing of fresh policy proposals.

He was stingy with specifics, offering no dollar figure for what he hoped the city’s minimum wage would be, and his description of ambitious plans, like a goal of creating thousands of new units of affordable housing, came with few details about how they would be carried out.

To set a local minimum wage, Mr. de Blasio must first receive permission from lawmakers in Albany, where he is already facing determined resistance on a marquee proposal to raise taxes on wealthy residents to pay for expanded prekindergarten and after-school programs.

There were signs on Monday that Republican leaders, who have partial control of the State Senate, were not interested in allowing another wage increase after raising the state minimum last year.

And as Mr. de Blasio delivered his speech in Queens, legislators in the Capitol were squabbling over the mayor’s tax plan, with the Republican leader of the Senate, Dean G. Skelos, declaring he would not allow the plan to come up for a vote. Jeffrey D. Klein, the Democratic co-leader, responded by saying he would not approve a budget plan without what he called Mr. de Blasio’s “vision.”

It was an illustrative moment for the power and limitations of Mr. de Blasio’s new perch in City Hall.

The mayor’s address, in a small auditorium at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, offered a moment for Mr. de Blasio to refine his policy manifesto in a quieter setting, without the pomp and ceremony of his inaugural.

He stood behind a simple lectern on a sparsely decorated stage, reading his speech from a binder without the aid of a teleprompter. Behind him, an enormous banner — nearly the size of a nearby American flag — spelled out the slogan for Mr. de Blasio’s City Hall, “One New York.”

Mr. de Blasio praised the city’s labor force, which is poised to renegotiate all its contracts with the city in the coming months. The mayor also suggested that his predecessor’s technocratic approach to governance had turned off many New Yorkers. Again recalling Mayor La Guardia, Mr. de Blasio said “he saw beyond the numbers in a budget” and “understood that those numbers represented real people who were just trying to live their lives” — an implicit dig at the data-driven administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The loudest applause of the afternoon came when Mr. de Blasio announced his plan for municipal identification cards, which he said would help immigrant residents without legal status participate more fully in civic life.

“To all of my fellow New Yorkers who are undocumented, I say: New York City is your home, too,” Mr. de Blasio said, “and we will not force any of our residents to live their lives in the shadows.”

The plan, a campaign pledge of the mayor’s, must be approved by the City Council, and the mayor did not specify how the program would function.

In other cities where such cards are in effect, advocates said, they are proof of identity in some instances where government identification might be needed, like opening a bank account, getting a library card, seeing a doctor at a hospital, cashing a check or signing a lease.

Advocates in New York have argued that the success of the program would depend on a broad adoption of the card beyond illegal immigrants so that it does not become synonymous with illegal immigration — or “a scarlet letter,” said Javier H. Valdes, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, a group that has been lobbying for a municipal ID.

“This needs to be an identification that all New York City residents should strive to get,” he said.

Correction: February 11, 2014 An earlier version of this article described incorrectly some of Mr. de Blasio’s regarding upcoming contract negotiations with municipal unions. He praised the city’s labor force, not its labor leaders.

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