NEW YORK— Immigration advocates in the United States continue to press for sweeping reforms that will clear a path to citizenship for all immigrants, including those without valid visas, and grant them access to many of the benefits and protections that U.S. citizens enjoy. In immigrant-rich New York, the new mayor is hoping to implement a new universal identity card program that will help undocumented immigrants move into the city’s mainstream.
Mere blocks from City Hall, immigration advocates rallied for what organizers billed as “A National Day of Action.”
Nisha Agarwal, New York City’s Immigration Commissioner, represented Mayor Bill de Blasio. He has made sweeping immigration reform a centerpiece of his policy agenda.
“So we’re here to support and also to show that New York is leading the way in terms of leading a pro-immigrant equality agenda but hopefully [one] that hopefully the nation will follow,” said Agarwal.
Carlos Menchaca, chairman of the City Council’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, sponsored legislation to issue municipal ID cards to every New Yorker.
“This legislation is designed to bring people out of the shadows and give them identification. This is for every New Yorker, it doesn’t matter your status. If you reside here, and you want to prove your identity, we want to give you a card,” said Menchaca.
Advocates - like Bakari Tsandia - say this will help the city’s African Diaspora community.
“… Because if you are undocumented, a person with an expired national ID, you will not be able to have access to certain buildings," said Tsandia. "You will not be able to open a bank account. You will not be able to have a regular life as a normal New Yorker.”
Proponents argue that ID’s are key to economic empowerment in other ways. Without a valid ID, many new immigrants who drive taxis cannot get their driver’s licenses renewed.
Without identity papers, parents cannot enter their children’s schools for parent-teacher conferences. And advocates say children not born in the U.S. have another disadvantage.
Bronx community leader Abrourazakou Bowa took a group of high schoolers to an event where IDs were examined at the door.
“The youth who were born here were able to enter. But those who came without any ID, we left them outside. Because of the ID. I was so sad about those two youths,” said Bowa.
Not everyone at the rally was in favor of reform. Peter Katalenas of New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement, has little sympathy for undocumented immigrants of any age.
“We believe anybody who comes to this country without permission shouldn’t be here and shouldn‘t stay here. I wouldn’t want somebody to come to my house and live here with without my permission.
I am sure most people don’t [want that either,” he said.
Analysts agree that the ID law and other immigration reforms are likely to pass the New York City Council and be signed by de Blasio in the near future. Federal overhaul of immigration laws has been stalled for months in the U.S. Congress, however, and little action is expected from Washington prior to November’s midterm elections.