Jackson Heights is one of the most diverse areas of Queens, where a significant number of those living and working are undocumented and, according to immigrant advocates, unable to achieve the American Dream.
“I’ve been here five years and my children have been here their entire lives,” Rosa, a Jackson Heights resident and undocumented immigrant from Ecuador, said. “I would like to have better rights here and have opportunities. If not for myself, at least for my children.”
Rosa — whose last name has been omitted to protect her identity — works in a clothing store on Roosevelt Avenue in Corona and, like many people in her situation, does not have a legal form of identification.
A new bill, introduced in the City Council last Thursday, could change that.
Nicknamed the “Municipal ID Bill,” the legislation would provide a citywide-accepted photo identification to all New Yorkers that would assist residents in opening bank accounts, applying for loans and other privileges.
Similar ideas were pitched by Mayor de Blasio and his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota, during the mayoral race.
“As it relates to municipal IDs, the fact of the matter is, many different communities lack access to government identification,” Daniel Coates of advocacy group Make the Road New York said. “Whether you are undocumented, a 14-year-old who lost their school ID, a senior who doesn’t have identification or one of the thousands of people who don’t have driver’s licenses, this bill will help more than one group of people.”
But not everyone agrees. Critics of municipal IDs fear that passing the bill could lead to immigrants voting in local elections.
“I have nothing against illegal aliens but there needs to be a line,” Josh Cadance of Jackson Heights said. “They’re here, fine, but I don’t want them voting and I don’t want them having the same level of rights I or the millions of people who came here legally have. I know it sounds harsh, but like I said, there needs to be a line drawn somewhere and people are going to be upset no matter where that line is.”
As it stands, the bill doesn’t include anything regarding immigrant voting but it is a concern people like Cadance have.
“Our thinking with the ID is that by creating something easily obtainable and universally acceptable, you’re better off including people,” Coates said. “You have to prove your residency and it’s very important for cities to better protect immigrants. It goes beyond the debate over undocumented rights.”
Mayor de Blasio — who mentioned his support of the bill in his recent 100 days in office speech — along with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) and a handful of other Council members, including Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), are overwhelmingly in support of the bill. They believe the legislation will go through without much difficulty.
“It sounds good to me,” Rosa said. “It sounds like a common-sense law that can only help people. I know not everyone is in favor but if it can go through, it would make a difference. It’d be a small step forward.”
There has not been a date set for the legislation to be voted on by the City Council.