City's Push for Municipal IDs Faces Challenges

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City Council Hearing on Municipal IDs in April

The City Council may pass a municipal identification card bill before the end of June to give the de Blasio administration enough time to implement the program by the end of 2014.

“This has been a priority for Mayor de Blasio,” said Daniel Dromm, a co-sponsor of the bill. “It’s a priority for the Council. And I think it’s a priority for our immigrant communities as well.”

Those who hold the cards, including immigrants in the country illegally, would be able to open bank accounts and get access to local government buildings and schools.

But New York faces a major challenge in designing the card: How can the card be appealing to everyone, not just the city’s illegal immigrants?

At a recent City Council hearing, Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said the administration was working to ensure the card has an array of incentives built into it, such as discounts at restaurants and museums. But that strategy hasn’t worked in places where municipal cards have previously been introduced, such as San Francisco.

“It’s a mixed bag in terms of our ability to raise awareness in terms of the importance of the card to the general population,” said Eric Mar, who sits on San Francisco's Board of Supervisors

Steven Choi, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said New York City’s card will only be successful if it has broad appeal and non-immigrants apply to get it; otherwise, it will become a “scarlet letter” pointing to immigrants who are here illegally.

“This has got to be a New York City ID card that everybody, not just undocumented immigrants, not just day laborers in Queens, but hipsters in Brooklyn and all sorts of folks are going to be able to get,” Choi said.