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NYC council approves ID program for immigrants who entered illegally

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito during

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito during a news conference at City Hall on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

The City Council Thursday approved a municipal ID card program -- paving the way for immigrants who entered illegally to obtain a legal form of identification -- though some supporters had lingering concerns about security against fraud.

The city-issued IDs will feature fraud-prevention measures resembling those used by the Department of Motor Vehicles, but the standards for qualification will be "flexible" enough to accommodate residents excluded from other government-issued ID programs, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said.

Officials hope the IDs will help immigrants not here lawfully open bank accounts, access city facilities and programs and will embolden them to report crime or seek government help without fear of deportation.

The program, to cost $8.4 million next fiscal year and $5.6 million each subsequent year, will be the largest of its kind in the nation.

Applicants can designate their gender as other than male or female -- a feature that has won praise from the transgender community.

"It is sound policy, and it is humane policy," Mark-Viverito said at City Hall before the bill passed 43-3, with two council members abstaining. While the city waits for Congress to act on immigration reform -- an effort that is deadlocked -- "we can take steps to help our own right here," she said.

An estimated 500,000 immigrants who are undocumented live in New York City. Other cities that have established similar ID programs include Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Haven, Connecticut.

Police Commissioner William Bratton has expressed reservations about whether the program -- to be administered by Mayor Bill de Blasio's Office of Operations -- will be secure enough to limit fraud and misuse, though the NYPD supports the general concept.

Councilman Vincent Ignizio of Staten Island, one of three Republicans on the 51-member council, voted against the bill, saying sponsors failed to address "many holes in regard to legitimate security concerns."

Officials have not yet established the exact fraud-prevention features, what proofs of ID will be accepted and how they will be weighted, how much the IDs will cost applicants or the minimum age requirement.

Councilman Daniel Garodnick (D-Manhattan) voted yes, but said the bill need not have been rushed, considering the loose ends.

Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Manhattan) abstained from voting, saying a future administration in Washington -- less immigrant-friendly than President Barack Obama's -- could use the program to single out and persecute city immigrants who are undocumented under federal law.Mark-Viverito said the card should be scrutinized to the same degree as any other ID. "If any agency for any reason has a doubt as to the identity of the person presenting that card, they have the right to reject it," she said.

City officials are in talks with museums and other cultural and recreational institutions to establish discounts or other "incentives" for citizens and legal residents to apply for the IDs as well.

Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Queens), a co-lead sponsor of the bill, said he wants the card to become a "must-have accessory for all New Yorkers."

Asked whether officials have reached out to other municipalities, including those on Long Island, about accepting the New York City ID, Mark-Viverito said the program is intended to benefit city residents within city borders.Officials said they hope the program can launch by the end of this year or the start of 2015.

De Blasio said he will sign the bill.

"The municipal ID is more than just a card," he said in a statement. "It provides New Yorkers who are currently living in the shadows with dignity and peace of mind."

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