Immigrant advocates are applauding Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan for a municipal ID card, an idea that's becoming increasingly popular nationwide. The city of New Haven, Conn. was the first to try it, and NY1's Bobby Cuza took a trip up I-95 to see what New York could learn from its experience. He filed the following report.
NEW HAVEN, CONN. - Fatima Rojas was among the first to get her Elm City Resident Card, as New Haven's ID card is known, and she had to get in line early.
"People start making lines at four o'clock in the morning," she said. "And it was packed."
New Haven, a city of about 130,000, pioneered a municipal ID card based largely on public safety concerns. Unable to open bank accounts, many illegal immigrants carried cash, making them a target. Yet those same immigrants were unlikely to report crimes.
"The ID card basically sends a message that you're part of the city," said Megan Fountain of Unidad Latina en Accion. "You have access to the police. You have access to the public libraries. You have access to the city agencies."
Fountain's organization helped push for the card. Available for $10 at City Hall, 12,000 cards have been issued. It doubles as a library card, and it helps immigrants open bank accounts, though Fountain cautions that education is key.
"At the beginning, many banks may look at the ID card and say, 'What is this?'" Fountain said. "So the city will have to educate banks and say, 'This is a valid form of ID. The cardholders have proved their residency. They've proved their identity.'"
When the card first launched back in 2007, New Haven became the first city in the country to issue municipal ID cards without regard to legal status. The backlash was fierce, including what were widely thought to be retaliatory raids by federal immigration authorities, with several dozen illegal immigrants arrested in the days after the card was unveiled.
"In 20 years as mayor, it generated the most hate mail and the only real physical threats I ever experienced," said former New Haven Mayor John DeStefano.
DeStefano, though, weathered the storm, and he said that times have changed.
In New York, advocates are rallying behind the plan, with City Council immigration chair Carlos Menchaca promising a hearing in the next month, with legislation to follow. Connecticut, though, is a step ahead. It will soon begin issuing state drivers' licenses to undocumented immigrants, perhaps rendering the municipal ID obsolete.