The City Council approved municipal identification legislation last Thursday. It will be the largest program of its kind in the United States.
The bill’s goal is to expand access to city services for all residents, but most notably the estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants here.
“When someone gets stopped for a minor infraction or part of protocol, we want to be able to give someone the opportunity to provide identification,” Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), author of the bill, said.
For undocumented individuals, getting stopped can mean being brought to the precinct since they cannot provide officers with a proper ID. The municipal card program would reduce the number of nonthreatening immigrants taken into custody.
Anyone who can provide proof of identity and city residence can obtain the card. Acceptable proof of residence includes a cable bill, driver’s license or apartment lease.
Proof of identity includes a photo ID from another country, passport or foreign driver’s license.
Similar plans have been put in place in other cities, including New Haven, Conn. and Los Angeles.
While most of the focus has been placed on illegal immigrants, councilmembers, including Dromm, emphasize the cards are for all residents of New York, a city where a majority of people do not have a driver’s license.
The city is looking to attach a number of perks to encourage people to join the program. These benefits could include using the card in place of a MetroCard or for CitiBike, as well as discounts at various cultural institutions.
In addition, the cards may benefit other groups as well, including homeless New Yorkers, sex workers and transgender residents. Unlike a driver’s license, the card would allow residents to self-identify by gender.
As it stands now, city law forbids transgender residents from changing the sex on their birth certificate without proof of transitional surgery.
Still, there are a few councilmembers who worry the program will ultimately create a “database” of undocumented residents.
Councilman Alan Maisel (D-Brooklyn) said the program could backfire but ultimately voted in favor of the bill.
Dromm said the concerns raised could not be further from the truth.
“People who say that are wrong because every New Yorker can get it,” he said. “We want it to be for the average New York resident, which is why we’re looking to attach some perks and discounts, maybe even make it act as a library card. We want to make sure people know this is for everyone, not just immigrants.”
The city allocated $8.4 million in the fiscal year 2015 budget to implement the program, which is set to roll out in January. After the card’s inaugural year, it is expected to cost $5.6 million annually.
Moving forward, Dromm said the Council will work with the NYPD to ensure all safety concerns are addressed. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) added lawmakers are in talks with several large banks to discuss the possibility of attaching a debit system to the card and with consulates to hammer out proof of identity issues.