28 April 2014

The A Card

An editorial in the NY Times notes a bill to create a municipal photo-ID card for all New Yorkers, "even those without legal immigration status", and thereby achieve the migrant-rights goal of "documenting the undocumented".

The Times comments that
The benefits for cardholders are obvious. An ID would make it vastly easier to navigate through life, to open bank accounts, to enter public buildings, to feel safe in encounters with the police, as victims of or witnesses to accidents or crimes. The rest of the city would also benefit through the fuller participation of often-marginalized residents — not just immigrants without papers, but also the old, the disabled and others who find it difficult to get an ID the usual way, through the Department of Motor Vehicles.
But if the card is going to work, if it’s going to be more than a glorified library or supermarket-discount card, it will need the full cooperation and support of the Police Department, whose officials are said to be concerned about the possibility of document fraud and other misuse. It would also need to be accepted by immigrants, who have their own worries about privacy and the vulnerability that comes with leaving the shadows.
The police are right to be wary — New York’s ID, if it passes, could quickly become the largest in the country, and if the city is not prepared to be rigorous in demanding the right kinds of checks and safeguards, it could be a dangerously porous program. The bill as written calls for strong documentation like passports, foreign consular IDs and birth certificates, and for various ways of proving New York City residency. The details need to be carefully worked out, but it’s vital that the final bill create a card that the Police Department accepts as proof of identity. The key test will be this: When a cardholder is stopped for a minor violation, he or she should be issued a summons, not detained for lacking ID.
Immigrants, meanwhile, have justifiable worries about turning over information to the government, or carrying a card that marks them, as surely as a scarlet “A,” of being in the country illegally. The identity documents used to obtain a card should not be held permanently; originals should be returned to cardholders and copies destroyed.