By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Mayor Bill de Blasio offered free access to some of his city's famed cultural destinations on Thursday in a bid to coax illegal immigrants to join an identification card program aimed at helping them do ordinary things like sign a rental lease.
Among the perks offered by the Democratic mayor were free or reduced-price admission to places like the Bronx Zoo, New York City Ballet, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Carnegie Hall for all of next year.
New York is joining other U.S. cities with large immigrant populations including Los Angeles and New Haven, Connecticut, with municipal ID cards for non-citizens. New York's $8 million ID card program begins on Jan. 1. It was approved in June by the New York City Council.
"The municipal ID is a powerful tool to bring more New Yorkers out of the shadows and into the mainstream," de Blasio said in a statement. "It is now also a key that opens the door for hundreds of thousands of more New Yorkers to our city’s premier assets in culture, science and entertainment."
While the ID program targets residents lacking legal immigration status who have trouble obtaining official U.S. identification, all New York City residents are eligible for the ID cards.
Without an official ID, some illegal immigrants cannot do routine tasks like opening bank accounts and signing rental leases. Supporters of the program have said the ID cards also would improve access to basic health and shelter services for illegal immigrants.
Three Republican City Council members, out of 46 voting members, voted against the measure in June, saying the funds would be better used for hiring firefighters or police officers.
New York's ID cards can be obtained with a foreign birth certificate, driver's license or proof of residence such as a utility bill. The cards will include the holder's photo, name, date of birth and address along with an expiration date.
De Blasio's announcement came a day after he announced the launch of a multi-city initiative involving New York, Los Angeles and Chicago aimed at increasing citizenship among U.S. permanent residents by providing legal assistance for the naturalization process.
(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Will Dunham)