Mayor Bill de Blasio has recently signed a piece of legislation to issue municipal id cards to all city residents regardless of their immigration status. This was one of the biggest item in his campaign for the office when he defeated Republican candidate Joe Lhota and became first Democratic New York City mayor since 1993.
Big Apple is probably one of the last cities with large immigration community to approach the subject of identification means shortage among alien population. The problem all these cities and towns are facing is the same for decades. There is not much city administration could do to solve illegal immigration problems since this belongs to federal administration so no town could deport illegal immigrants or grant them legal residence status. Safety and security on the other hand is a very local problem for authorities and it’s not a surprise they are trying to address it with available means.
There are two major issues associated with larger communities inability to obtain officially acceptable identification. First result of such circumstances is lack of legal and safe way of keeping money. Without a bank account many illegal immigrants carry large amounts of cash or keep it at home. This way they become targets for criminals and gangs. Second, even more crucial aspect of the case is reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement personnel. In order to testify a witness needs to establish his or her identity which is very difficult without a government issued id card or ID badge. Lack of proper identification naturally provokes a question for a reason of such state, if the answer is illegal immigration status then the fear of deportation or other administrative action prevents witness from testifying. Without witness testimony prosecution has often very limited means to charge criminals in court and police at the same time loses the most important source of information which happens to be community members cooperation.
While municipal custom id card could resolve identity issue for law enforcement agencies banking aspect is not so easy. As Michael Smith, the president and CEO of the New York Bankers Association pointed out the ID must meet federal criteria for counter terrorism and fraud prevention measures. For example all foreigners must provide Tax ID, passport number, alien number and unexpired foreign passport in order to open a bank account. While bankers are always open for new business it might make the matter more difficult. Some towns adopting the program ended up with id card that doubles as a debit card or prepaid credit card. This way they avoided strict regulations governing checking bank accounts.
Finance regulations are not the only challenge for the new personal identification program. The New York Civil Liberties Union denied its support for the program arguing that the data collected during the enrollment process could be then used for deportation raids against illegal immigrants.
In order for the program to be successful it must gain decent enrollment level otherwise it would be limited only to those we have no means of obtaining any other official form of identification. In order to achieve this goal the city officials plan to attach services and discounts to the new document. Citi Bike bicycle sharing program integration, discounts to museums and restaurants as well as free first year membership are on the list of incentives for those who decide to apply.
With tighter borders and more measures to counter illegal immigration it seems the peak of the problem could be behind us however number of undocumented aliens present in the country remains high. Without immigration reform at the federal level which struggles in the Congress for years local communities would be left alone dealing with the problem they can’t solve but must address.