ID card helps immigrants feel at home

HOST INTRO: In his first State of the City address earlier this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wants to issue municipal ID cards to undocumented immigrants.

DE BLASIO: We will not force any of our residents to live their lives in the shadows. (00:05)

In the United States actually, other cities like New Jersey, California, and Washington have issued similar cards. But New Haven, Connecticut, just two hours away by train, was the first city to introduce a municipal card in 2006. Raymond Bayor went to New Haven to see how the card is working.

Luis Jimenez is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who’s lived in New Haven for10 years. The city ID card, he says, has given him a sense that he is welcome there.

JIMENEZ: I feel like I belong in this community. It feels good. (00:05)

On the day he got his card in 2008 he used it right away to do things he couldn’t before.

JIMENEZ: I went to the library and got my library card. And then also we have the beach just a few minutes down. You can access the beach. And then I went and got my bank account. (00:10)

Those are the same benefits de Blasio cites in support of the card. In New Haven, the bank accounts the cards allowed undocumneted immigrants to open have been the biggest benefit. Before the cards, they simply couldn’t open accounts, according to John Lugo, director of an immigrant advocacy group called ULA.

LUGO: The people that did not have the opportunity to open bank accounts, so many of them they were forced to carry their money with them all the time. (00:09)

Criminals saw immigrants as walking ATM’s. And immigrants were reluctant to call the police. But when the cards were introduced, the mayor issued an Executive Order that the police not ask anyone about their immigration status.

David Hartman is media liaison for the New Haven police department. He says the result is less crime.

HARTMAN: People seem to be less afraid to call the police and admit that they’ve been a victim of crime. People used to be very apprehensive and not want to call the police because of their immigrant status. (00:12)

Opponents of the ID card say that ignores one kind of crime. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, opposed the card in New Haven and accuses de Blasio of obstructing federal immigration law. Ira Milman is the spokesperson for the organization. He says the 9/11 commission concluded that the terrorists could carry out the attack because they had government-issued ID cards.

MILMAN: And here you have the mayor of the city that is ground zero for terrorists, giving out documents to people we really don’t know anything about. (00:09)

That isn’t the only reason why FAIR opposes the card.

MILMAN: If you give people identification documents, it makes it easier for them to live illegally in the United States and to do what they need to do on a day-to-day basis. (00:08)

But in a city like New York with hundreds of thousands of immigrants, it’s more complicated than that. Paul Lagunes is a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He studied the New Haven program. He says whether or not a city should issue cards depends on what message the city wants to wants to send to its undocumented residents.

LAGUNES: you want to signal, hey, we appreciate your work, hey, we think you add cultural wealth to our communities, hey, we appreciate your difference and we want you here. If that’s the decision, then I do think any municipal ID is a good idea. (00:18)

In New Haven, the cards still face challenges. Not every bank accepts the card as identification. John Lugo says advocates in New York still have a lot of work to do to avoid similar problems.

LUGO: They should be in contact, you know, with different banks. They should start having lot of conversations among the different people and the different communities and the different businesses. (00:10)

De Blasio’s administration plans to present the legislation to the City Council in the next few months.

Raymond Bayor, Columbia Radio News.

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