This summer has granted major victories for immigrant communities throughout New York City. With the release of the NYC budget, $10.3 million dollars was slated solely for the expansion of programs and services for immigrant communities; programs including Adult Literacy, the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative, and the Cultural Immigrant Initiative all received additional funding in the FY15 City budget. A historic victory for the City is the expansion of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project – allowing NYC to become the first jurisdiction ever with a public defender system specifically for detained immigrants facing deportation. With $4.9 million dollars of funding, this project will ensure families will no longer be torn apart by deportation if they cannot afford a lawyer. Through CUNY Citizenship Now! individuals will also be able to receive free legal services at additional locations like the offices of City Council Members and various community events. These services will ensure all qualified New Yorkers have the ability to apply for U.S. citizenship and other immigrant benefits.
Joining the cities of Los Angeles, New Haven, and more, the City Council voted to institute the country’s largest municipal identification card program, available to all, including the most vulnerable populations. Municipal ID programs from around the country play a positive role, consistently empowering and protecting communities. Furthermore, the program acts as a catalyst for the economy, creating a path to increased spending and entrepreneurship as undocumented immigrants will potentially have the opportunity to open bank accounts, sign leases, and more.
IDs facilitate everyday features of life which many people take for granted, such as driving to work, opening a bank account, or returning an item in a retail store. Merely proving your existence is contingent upon holding a government recognized ID, and yet many individuals in New York City are unable to obtain proper identification – until now.
The new municipal ID program will help entire populations in New York City access a variety of services and opportunities. As Council Speaker Mark-Viverito states, “This landmark legislation will go a long way towards helping New Yorkers access City services while also giving identification to those who have not had one before.” In providing official and accurate identification for all New Yorkers, the ID program will include typical features such as a picture and address, though the most inclusive feature being the option of card holders to choose their own gender.
The program is not just an investment in immigrant services but an investment in services for all New Yorkers. Among those unable to get an ID are: the homeless, runaway youth, and elderly individuals who do not have access to necessary documents like passports, birth certificates, and social security cards necessary to obtain a New York ID; those who have been the victims of a disaster, such as Hurricane Sandy, and have lost documents due to fire or flooding; and undocumented workers and their children who contribute to New York’s economy.
Spearheaded by Council Members Carlos Menchaca and Daniel Dromm with the support of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayo Bill de Blasio, the new system administered by the Mayor’s Office of Operations will empower communities who are often invisible to privileged New Yorkers. New Yorkers will have the opportunity to apply for the card at government agencies as well as a myriad of community-based organizations that provide social services. With so many options and access to apply, New Yorkers everywhere will be able to obtain IDs with convenience, while reducing wait times. The program is expected to roll out in the beginning of 2015. For further information, listen to our interview with Council Member Carlos Menchaca and LSA Family Health Services from our podcast, “Human Services News and Views,” found here!
Contributed by Eve Stern of the Human Services Council.