New York will offer identification cards to residents regardless of their immigration statuses under a plan lawmakers passed Thursday and Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign to create the nation's biggest municipal ID program.
The card is intended to provide a form of government identification to help immigrants and others who may not be able to get it elsewhere, though advocates also aim to make it a point of New Yorker pride.
"The message is that the city belongs to everyone, regardless of who you are," Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said before the heavily Democratic council passed the measure 43-3.
De Blasio, a Democrat, said in a statement that his administration was ready to move ahead with a plan that "provides New Yorkers who are currently living in the shadows with dignity and peace of mind."
The law would take effect by year's end. Applicants would have to provide proof of their identity and city residency, and officials would have some flexibility in determining what documents suffice. The fee has yet to be decided but probably would be about $10 and could be waived for those unable to afford it.
Amid the fractious politics of immigration on the national scale, liberal groups and immigrant advocates have championed city identification cards as a way to provide official ID for such tasks as opening a bank account or signing a lease. Cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Haven, Connecticut, already offer the documents.
With an estimated 500,000 immigrants living illegally in New York, government identification might make them feel more comfortable approaching police for help, backers say. The city card also could put ID within reach of poor and homeless people who don't have the money or checklist of documents to get driver's licenses or other IDs.
But some critics fear such cards might be used to get government-paid benefits for immigrants who don't qualify. And some council members raised questions about whether the IDs could become tools of identity deception and how the data collected would be used.
"I believe there are legitimate security concerns that have not been adequately addressed," said Councilman Vincent Ignizio, a Republican.
Councilman Alan Maisel, a Democrat, wondered whether the cards could end up becoming wallet-sized scarlet letters if government someday took a sharp anti-immigrant turn.
Police Commissioner William Bratton expressed some concern this spring about whether the cards would be secure against abuse, but he said this week the police department looks forward to the program's implementation.