NEW YORK (AP) — New York City has launched its municipal identification card program, the largest in the country, which officials say will allow immigrants living in the country illegally to access key city services they were previously unable to obtain.
The card, dubbed IDNYC, was approved last year and became available to New Yorkers on Monday. It is aimed at those who do not currently have a government-issued ID, including the elderly, homeless and an estimated 500,000 immigrants in the city who live in the U.S. without legal documentation.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who worked closely with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to create the program, long a liberal goal, called the card "a gateway to city services."
"It is the key to opening a bank account or getting a library card, and the ticket to many of our city's finest cultural institutions," said the mayor, a Democrat. "More than that, this card represents who we are: New Yorkers who value equality, opportunity and diversity."
Advocates believe having the photo-embedded cards may make immigrants otherwise lacking documentation feel more comfortable seeking help from law enforcement. They said the cards also may help the elderly, the homeless and members of the transgender community who don't have easy access or funds to get state IDs to participate in other aspects of civic life.
"This is a day that we have been waiting for; it speaks to folding everyone into the fabric that is this city," Mark-Viverito said as she stood alongside the mayor at a Queens news conference. "It's more than an ID card, it's an affirmation. You are a New Yorker."
All New Yorkers age 14 and older are eligible, as long as they can prove their identity and city residency. Applicants without a home address may prove residency by providing a letter from a city agency, nonprofit organization, religious institution, hospital or health clinic where their mail is received.
Bernardo Garcia, 40, said he had waited in line for more than an hour Monday at a Bronx library to apply for his municipal ID. Garcia, a Bronx resident who has a quality control job at a Brooklyn factory, said the ID could come in handy "for jobs, banking, insurance, for everything."
"Thank you for the opportunity!" said Garcia, a native of Colombia who has lived in New York about 15 years. "Everybody needs ID. This is New York: a great city. A great opportunity."
To prevent any possible stigma that the ID is only carried by immigrants who are in the country illegally, the city has created an incentive program to entice all New Yorkers, regardless of their immigration status, to get a card. Cardholders will be eligible for free memberships at many of the city's signature cultural institutions as well as other discounts.
The card is currently free to obtain, though a fee may be applied in the future, city officials said.