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Know Your Rights
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

New York City Municipal ID Card Faces Hurdles

A municipal identification card meant to ease access to New York City services for illegal immigrants and others faces several challenges even after Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bill into law on Thursday.

When rolled out in early 2015, the city’s ID system will be the largest program of its kind in the U.S., offering a photo identification card with less stringent documentation standards than driver’s licenses or state IDs. Cities such as New Haven, Conn., Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., have launched similar programs.

Mr. 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.

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 program 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 don’t have accounts and are sometimes targeted by criminals because they tend to carry large amounts of cash.

Michael Smith, the president and CEO of the New York Bankers Association, said the ID program would have to meet federal criteria meant to prevent fraud and terrorism in order for banks to accept the card. For example, a non-U.S. 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,” Mr. 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 finalize 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 Mr. de Blasio said the municipal ID would meet the federal rules, saying the city wouldn’t 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 don’t 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.

The program 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. City officials said law enforcement agencies would be able obtain the information only with a court order.

There are other hurdles. Though New York police Commissioner William Bratton has said he supports the ID cards, for example, the police wouldn’t be required to accept the card, potentially limiting its utility.

Supporters and skeptics alike said convincing a broad range of city residents to apply for the card beyond marginalized groups is critical.

Widespread use of the card is key, said Daniel Coates, the lead organizer at Make the Road New York, an advocacy group that provides services to illegal immigrants and others, and pushed for the municipal ID.

“There is a lot work to be done” he said

City officials said they plan to attach benefits to the ID with broad appeal, such as discounts to museums and restaurants or the ability to sync the card with the city’s bikeshare program, Citi Bike. City officials said Thursday that the card will be free in the first year, in hopes of encouraging applications.

Ms. Agarwal said they have talked to city officials who have launched municipal ID cards elsewhere to try to avoid pitfalls. For instance, Ms. Agarwal said, a city I.D. program in Oakland, Calif. that included a kind of debit function that carried high fees.

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