Politics

City Council Hears Concerns On Municipal IDs, Implementation

The New York City Council Committee on Immigration, led by Councilman Carlos Menchaca, held a hearing Wednesday on the proposal to create a municipal identification card program for New York City residents. The proposal has the strong support of the Mayor’s office, and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was highly confident the bill would pass the Council. 

“This hearing is the first step towards achieving that ultimate goal of the largest municipal ID program in this country … Let it be clear that this is a priority for this City Council, and we will have municipal IDs in this city,” Mark-Viverito said.

The ID program is aimed at benefiting vulnerable populations, including immigrants, the transgendered and the homeless. There was widespread agreement, however, that the card must be widely adopted by all New Yorkers in order to avoid stigmatizing users who otherwise would not qualify for more traditional forms of ID, particularly when those users might be from populations that already suffer social scrutiny.

Testimony from City Council members and representatives of non-profit groups like the Immigration Coalition and the New Economy Project offered a range of ideas about how to make the card appealing to everyone. These ideas included store discounts and affiliations with banking institutions. Councilman Antonio Reynoso even proposed that children as young as twelve should be eligible to receive an ID.

Bryan Ellicott, a transgendered man, talked about the importance of male and female designation on the cards. He suggested in his testimony that rather than requiring proof of sex reassignment surgery, transgendered people could instead provide a letter from a therapist or doctor prescribing hormone replacements. He said the only way to change one's designation with the state currently is to spend upward of $30,000 on surgeries.

San Francisco, a city that has already created its own municipal ID program, has done away with gender identifiers on its IDs altogether. Ellicott, who represented only himself at the hearing, not any particular LGBTQ organization, disagreed with this approach.  

“I don’t support that at all. New York State has me walking around with a female gender marker on my ID. I would like a male one,” Ellicott said.

Mindy Tarlow, director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, and Nisha Agarwal from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, testified about the implementation of the proposed legislation, which designates the Mayor’s Office of Operations as the administering agency for the ID program. 

“The process for applying for a municipal ID card will be similar to the DMV model. Individuals will be required to show evidence of their identify and residency by providing acceptable documents,” said Tarlow.

The cards would cost a “reasonable fee” and financial assistance would be provided for those who cannot afford the expense. Among the forms of identification that could be used to qualify are foreign passports, consular ID cards, and a copy of a foreign birth certificate.

To accommodate the homeless, the Office of Operations would be required to create alternative methods of establishing residency for people without a fixed address. The city would not be allowed to retain originals or copies of records, and all information collected would be treated as confidential.

This point was of particular concern to privacy watchdogs like the New York Civil Liberties Union.  In New Haven, the first city to create a municipal ID program, tensions arose when information about applicants was requested by anti-immigrant activists who said they would turn it over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As to how the city would go about promoting the card, Agarwal cited “social media, community and educational institutions, famous New Yorkers, foreign consulates, faith-based institutions and beyond.”

Eric Mar, of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, also testified via telephone. He explained how his city rolled out its municipal ID program in 2009.

San Francisco's ID cards cost $15 and individuals can quality for discounts. Mar said that the San Francisco program cost roughly $828,000 to set up, and now costs around $200,000 a year to maintain, which is “roughly paid for” by the $15 fee. 

New York City, of course, with a population of nearly 8.5 million people, is much bigger than San Francisco, which has around 1 million people.

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