Despite Setbacks IDNYC Promises to Open Doors To NYC Immigrants

By Nina Zade

Dubbed the country’s most “ambitious” municipal identification program, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s IDNYC initiative has attracted nationwide attention since its highly anticipated launch on January 12, 2015. The city-wide plan provides valid identification and access to public services to all New Yorkers, regardless of identifiers such as gender identity and homelessness, but offers much needed opportunities to one of New York City’s most dynamic and growing groups: the immigrant population.

With the influx of immigrants steadily rising, city officials have been looking for a feasible way to integrate both documented and undocumented immigrants into their local communities at the start of 2015. IDNYC will provide applicants with the ability to open bank accounts, sign up for housing and public services, gain access to cultural institutions such as museums and libraries, and have a valid form of identification to present to the city’s police force.

“New York City of the 21st century must be inclusive to all,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides at the program’s official launch. “IDNYC includes all New Yorkers, regardless of origin, giving everyone opportunities like opening a bank account and allowing everyone the chance to engage in their government.”

The Mayor announced that the card will also be accepted by over ten financial institutions, and will provide cardholders with prescription drug discounts.

Within the first three days, over 5,000 people signed up for the ID, and 50,000 more registered online. Mayor de Blasio tweeted that “less than a month after the launch of #IDNYC, more than 180,000 [New Yorkers] have made appointments”. The system is designed to accommodate around 300,000 people, but may need to be expanded as the demand spreads.

Jackson Heights in Queens, considered one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city with a total population of 66,636, held signups for the ID program at the Make the Road New York center on Roosevelt Avenue. Hundreds showed up to face longs lines and endless waits. As of today, electronic signups for appointments are booked as far as May.

Hundreds waited in line in early January at the Make The Road New Center on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Hundreds waited in line in early January at the Make The Road New Center on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens.

“I don’t think they were very prepared,” said Hector Muñoz, Mexico native and Jackson Heights resident. “They did not expect so many of us to show up for this, but this program offers so many great things. I came in the middle of January with my 87-year-old mother and waited for five hours to get my appointment in April.”

Muñoz, who is 45, has worked in a grocery store in Jackson Heights for the past nine years. He hopes this card will make simple things such as wiring money to relatives a simpler process. “My mother needs to move into a new apartment soon, and having this card will make it much easier for us,” he added. 

Muñoz and his mother are not the only ones placing their hopes in the ID.  Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigrant Coalition, stated in a press release that although bumps in the road are inevitable, the Coalition is confident that the city will listen to feedback and make changes accordingly.

“I’m an immigrant,” said web developer Steven Taro Clark, 57. “I’m from Canada. Having something like this, it’s almost the law now. You definitely need a valid ID to sign up for housing in my building, and if you’re stopped on the street without one, you’re screwed,” he said. “Its just what the community needed to happen.”

Jackson Heights has earned attention of late from demographers for its growing South Asian and South American communities, with 20.5 percent of its population hailing from Asia and 57.2 percent classified as Hispanic or Latino. The neighborhood has speakers of over 30 different languages, ranging from Korean, Nepali, and Urdu.

View of 73rd Street in Jackson Heights, Queens County, considered one of the busiest and most metropolitan areas of the neighborhood.

View of 73rd Street in Jackson Heights, Queens County, considered one of the busiest and most metropolitan areas of the neighborhood.

Residential area of 71st Street.

Residential area of 71st Street.

“I came to Queens with my wife from Bangladesh fourteen years ago,” said Christopher Adhikaroy, 61. “I only wish there was something like this back then. We feel very appreciated as immigrants. There are so many all over New York City, and we always make our own communities, but this gives us all something to have in common. This push for equality – an equal opportunity, is very important.”

IDNYC’s twitter page provides followers with updates on signups and enrollment centers in a variety of different languages.“Rajana and Rayeesa can borrow as many romance novels to their heart’s desire!” reads one tweet, advertising the new library access feature of the card.

Another tweet features cardholder Maria, who “will use her #IDNYC to sign lease on family’s new #SunsetPark apartment.”

“I would have waited 10 more hours if I had to,” said Muñoz. “ Yes, it was crowded and not organized, but it is a good beginning.”

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