A local nonprofit legal foundation is ready to begin issuing unofficial City of Kingston identification cards that supporters hope will boost public safety by encouraging undocumented immigrants and others at society’s margins to come forward and report crimes.
But in an apparent communications breakdown, Mayor Shayne Gallo expressed surprise this week when told that the group was on the verge of issuing ID cards bearing the city seal.
The so-called Kingston Community Identification Card would provide an unofficial means of establishing the bearer’s identity and residence to police, emergency personnel, schools and private charities, like food pantries. Banks, check-cashing establishments and other business could also accept the card at their discretion. The card would not allow the holder to obtain official documents like a driver’s license, secure public benefits or establish legal residency in the United States. The card is not recognized by state or federal agencies.
“Having this document and showing it to a police officer represents security,” said Milan Bhatt, co-executive director of the Worker Justice Center of New York which is spearheading the effort. “It says [police] will open their doors, listen to what you have to say and assist you.”
The program is based on an initiative which began in Mercer County, N.J. back in 2007. Maria Juega is the executive director of the Mercer County-based grassroots nonprofit Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund. According to Juega, the community ID program got its start in Asbury Park following the murder of a Mexican man. After police expressed frustration at their inability of garner cooperation from the local Latino community, many of whom were undocumented immigrants, a coalition of church and nonprofit groups came up with the idea of local identification cards. Since then, dozens of local businesses and facilities including libraries and banks have begun to accept the community IDs, Juega said.
“Folks were afraid,” said Juega. “Now they feel like they can approach the police with more confidence. You have a way to prove who you are and where you live for local purposes.”
Gallo support cited
Bhatt said that the Worker Justice Center, with support from the Working Families Party began pushing for a Kingston community ID last summer after receiving reports that Latinos were being targeted for robberies in Midtown. The effort gained support from then-mayor James Sottile. In December, Bhatt said, he sat down with mayor-to-be Shayne Gallo, Working Families Party board member Mike Boland and then-Ward 5 alderwoman Jennifer Fuentes, Gallo’s liaison to the WFP. At the meeting, Bhatt said, Gallo promised to follow through with Sottile’s commitment and asked how he could help move the program forward. Last month, City Clerk Carly Williams e-mailed digital copies of the city seal, which will be affixed to the ID cards, to the Worker Justice Center. Bhatt said that the group is just waiting for processing equipment to begin issuing the cards.