City lawmakers and local nonprofits are working together to hammer out the details of the city ID program, scheduled to roll out in January 2015.
The program particularly impacts the Latino population of New York, where the Mexican community is the third-largest immigrant group in the city and believed to have the largest undocumented population.
This card is “meant to be for people who otherwise have been unable to get other government-issued ID,” such as a driver’s license, said the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office on Immigrant Affairs, Nisha Agarwal. She hopes that undocumented immigrants will apply for the cards “because it will enable them to interact with law enforcement, get into schools, get into city buildings in a way that they have not been able to do so far.”
According to data from the New York City Record, approximately “half of New York City residents age 16 and over do not have a New York State Driver’s License.”
A big selling point for the cards was its ability for members of the undocumented community to obtain bank accounts. A 2009 report found that over 60 percent of Mexicans in New York do not have bank accounts — the highest percentage of any community in the city.
Yet it remains unclear which banks and credit agencies will actually accept the ID cards. Banks have strict regulations on the types of IDs they can accept, in an efforts to prevent fraud and even terrorism. “We remain concerned about the potential conflicts with state and federal laws,” said Karen Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the New York Bankers Association. Specifically, they worry whether the city will issue IDs without making cardholders sufficiently prove their identity.
Commissioner Agarwal confirmed that the city is in touch with the bankers association and that the city is “very hopeful and quite confident that our process very much complies with federal and state rules around banking.” The city has not finalized what documents will be required to obtain an ID card.
While banks question whether the ID requirement is too lax, some community members and organizations worry that the IDs might collect too much information.
In July, for example, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a statement opposing the ID card program, saying that the data collected by the city could be turned over to state and federal law enforcement without notifying the cardholders. The NYCLU says that the IDs invite “New Yorkers to gamble with the stakes as high as prosecution or even deportation.”
Deyanira Del Rio, of the New Economy Project, a local community advocacy group that works to end economic inequalities, acknowledged there is some trade-off. “There’s always these competing concerns,” she said. “On the one hand, there are risks to handing over more and more information about yourself to authorities, and then on the other hand there’s the reality of trying to live your daily life here.”
Daniel Coates, from Make the Road New York, a local nonprofit that builds the power of Latino and working-class communities, believes there’s no precedent for federal agencies, such as Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to collect information on ID card holders, as it has not happened with other similar programs around the county, like Oakland and New Haven.
The ID card program though does not address other critical problems among the undocumented community. One City College student, who wished to remain anonymous because her family is undocumented, said that her family is already able to obtain a bank account because they have an ID issued from the Mexican consulate, a consular ID card. While many undocumented Mexicans in New York have a consular ID card, it is not as credible in the city as a type of U.S. identification.
A bigger issue for the student is her family’s inability to obtain driver’s licenses, which will not change with a municipal ID.
Moreover, the city’s “doubly undocumented” residents, who lack documentation from their home countries as well as from the United States, will still face problems come January. “As inclusive as the municipal ID mission wants to be, it’s pretty inevitable that there are going to be some people that are going to have a really hard time being able to gain access to the program,” said Del Rio. “It’s that Catch-22 where you need ID to get ID.”
Paul Lagunes, a Columbia University professor who has studied the implementation of similar programs in other cities, thinks that New York has been mindful of the limitations of implementing an ID card program. And “the policy should be a success” in an effort for the city to signal that it is a welcoming community to all.