New York City is poised to approve the creation of municipal identification cards that would allow immigrants living in the country illegally to access key city services they were previously unable to obtain.
The City Council will vote Thursday to create the New York City Identity Card, Democratic Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito told the Associated Press on Monday. The card will be available to people who can prove their identity and residence in the nation's largest city.
The program, long a favorite in the nation's liberal circles, is aimed at providing documentation for the estimated 500,000 immigrants living illegally in New York. With the card, many of these immigrants will be able to show a form of government identification required to do things such as open a bank account, see a doctor, cash a check or sign a lease.
The law will create the largest municipal ID card program in the nation. It will put New York on a growing list of cities that have approved them, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Haven, Connecticut.
"This municipal ID card will provide a safe and secure identification to all New Yorkers, many of whom have never had them before," Mark-Viverito said. "For too long, many New Yorkers lacked ID for a variety of reasons, but this smart, humane legislation will begin to change that and help many New Yorkers gain access to important city services that were previously out of reach."
Advocates said they believe that having the photo-embedded cards may make immigrants otherwise without such documentation feel more comfortable seeking help from law enforcement. They said the cards also may help the elderly, the homeless and members of the transgender community who don't have easy access or funds to get state IDs to participate in other aspects of civic life.
The card likely would cost around $10, waived for people who can't afford it.
Critics of the card say they believe it will permit benefits, which in some cases cost government funds, to people who should not be living in the United States.
The speaker briefed the council's Democratic conference about the measure late Monday. Her spokesman said the measure is expected to pass the 51-member council, which has 48 Democrats and three Republicans. The law would go into effect by year's end.
Documents that would be acceptable to obtain a card include a form of identification such as a foreign driver's license or a birth certificate and proof of residence, such as a utility bill or bank statement.
Immigrant Juan Carlos Gomez, who is in the country illegally and is a member of the advocacy group Make the Road New York, said that if the police department and other government agencies accept the card, a "strong base" would be established in communities that often harbor wariness toward authorities.
"It will create more confidence and trust in our communities," said Gomez, who lives in Queens.
New York Police Department officials have expressed concern the cards would become targets for fraud and other misdeeds, but Commissioner William Bratton said Monday that the NYPD "looks forward to the implementation of a successful Municipal ID program."
Police officials have said they would work to safeguard the cards and instruct officers to accept them as valid forms of identification.
The ID bill, which was co-sponsored by Democratic Councilmen Carlos Menchaca and Daniel Dromm, also fulfills a campaign pledge of Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office in January.
"To all of my fellow New Yorkers who are undocumented, I say: New York City is your home, too," de Blasio said in his inaugural State of the City address in February, "and we will not force any of our residents to live their lives in the shadows."
The mayor, a longtime ally of Mark-Viverito, set aside more than $8 million in his executive budget for the creation of the program.
The card will also offer yet-to-be-determined incentives to encourage all people, immigrants or otherwise, to obtain them, Mark-Viverito's spokesman said. Advocates say they believe benefits, such as perhaps restaurant or museum discounts, will popularize the ID card and prevent a stigma from emerging around it.
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