Many U.S. cities aren't waiting for the federal government to determine how to deal who with people who enter the country illegally. New York, for instance, is issuing municipal ID cards that are available to all city residents, including undocumented immigrants.
The card allows a resident to open a bank account, enroll a child in school or gain access to a hospital — all actions that require a valid picture ID.
Residents who can prove their identity and city residency can sign up for the card at any of 12 enrollment centers. In the first month, more than 150,000 people have scheduled appointments to enroll for the card.
Betsy Plum of the New York Immigration Coalition said New York has more than 500,000 undocumented residents. The municipal ID card offers "a way for those individuals to feel a little more security in their day-to-day life,” she said.
New York is just one of a handful of U.S. cities, including San Francisco, that offer municipal IDs, but more are following suit. Nisha Agarwal, New York commissioner of immigrant affairs, said that’s because cities can take steps to address local immigration policy without a federal mandate.
"We can still make life better, easier, more fruitful for everyone who is living here, including undocumented immigrants," Agarwal said.
Proponents of the cards say that undocumented immigrants are at risk specifically because they don’t have any form of ID. For instance, Plum noted, undocumented immigrants who are victims of crimes may be afraid to call police because they have no way of proving who they are.
Antonio, originally from Ecuador, has lived in the U.S. since 1992. Today, he has no valid documentation, something that is having a big impact on his life.
"I had a work permit until 2007, and with that permit I bought a house, where I pay the water, mortgage, everything you need for a house. I pay everything," he said. "But my work permit is now expired, and the ID that I had from the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] is also expired, so now I need a new one in order to pay my taxes and everything else … because all these years, I’ve continued to pay my taxes."
Some opponents say New York City is going beyond reasonable protection for illegal immigrants and is making it easier for people to break the law. Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform said that "no city or municipal government should be in the position of impeding the federal government’s ability to carry out immigration law. Essentially, what New York City is doing is aiding and abetting people who are violating federal immigration law.”
Mayors from around the country gathered in New York City recently to pledge support for and work together on local immigration initiatives. Agarwal said New York is "banding together with our fellow cities around the country and showing the reality on the ground, that will then push on the national debate and prove that being pro-immigrant, having a progressive immigrant policy, is better and not worse for the country.”
Immigration advocates say that although the ID cards do a lot to protect vulnerable residents, there is still much to be done to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality.