A coalition of immigration advocacy groups is spearheading a campaign to create a “municipal identification” program in Mid-Hudson cities, including Kingston. The program, they say, could benefit not only immigrants but many segments of society, from the homeless to the elderly to domestic violence victims.
The proposal by the grass-roots advocacy group Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson calls for the issuance of ID cards that would bear the city seal and be recognized by municipal employees, including police. The ID cards would be issued for free, or a small fee. Identification for the cards could be verified by a passport or consular ID, letters from employers or utility bills. The cards would not entitle holders to any particular benefits, but, backers say, they could help create a sense of community identity and safety for marginalized groups.
“It’s just a way for people to identify themselves and feel more confident,” said Ignacio Acevedo, lead organizer for Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson. “It’s a way to show that the communities where we live and work and pay taxes don’t devalue us.”
Acevedo said that the campaign grew out of a statewide push to allow state driver’s licenses to be issued to undocumented immigrants. When the effort stalled, Acevedo said, advocates turned to community ID cards as a means to provide stability and security. Another immigration advocacy group, the Worker Justice Center, has been issuing unofficial “community ID” cards for the past few years. Emma Kreyche, the group’s senior worker rights advocate, said backing from municipalities would boost the legitimacy of the ID and help holders access services, like banks, that might not accept an ID issued by a non-profit group.
Kreyche added that while the cards were conceived to help immigrant communities, the community ID program had proved popular with many groups that lack the money or documentation to obtain official state or federal identity documents. Kreyche said the group had received referrals for the community ID program from homeless shelters, domestic violence service providers and groups serving elderly and youth populations.
“It’s really a broader program than just something aimed at immigrants,” said Kreyche. “And the demand has risen. Whenever we go into a community and sign people up we get people coming to us from all walks of life.”
Last week the City of Poughkeepsie became the second city in New York State (New York City was the first) to approve a municipal ID program. Middletown is set to vote on municipal ID next month. Acevedo said that the group had also proposed legislation in Beacon, Newburgh and Warwick. In Kingston advocates have met informally with Mayor Steve Noble and members of the common council to discuss a municipal ID program.
In Kingston, the idea of a municipal ID program is not new. In 2011, a forerunner of the Worker Justice Center got approval from then-mayor James Sottile to incorporate the city seal on community ID cards. But the program was never approved through legislation and lapsed during the Shayne Gallo administration. In a prepared statement, Mayor Steve Noble said he had asked the advocacy groups to present sample legislation to be reviewed by his office and the Common Council in the coming months. Noble said that the ID program “would allow local residents including immigrants, homeless individuals, transgender individuals, senior citizens, adolescents etc., to access community cultural and educational opportunities in our city,” Noble wrote. “Municipal IDs can also improve public safety by making individuals more comfortable to report crimes that they suffer or witness.”
Common Council Majority Leader Rennie Scott-Childress said he had not yet seen any specific legislation, but that he would consider a municipal ID program for the city. In part Scott-Childress said he supported the program because it would encourage members of immigrant communities to work with police without fear of exposing their immigration status. Scott-Childress noted recent revelations of gang activity in Kingston’s Latino immigrant community as evidence that in support of the ID program.
“It gives people some assurance that their interaction with the police will be safe,” said Scott-Childress.
Acevedo said his group was also looking at ways to broaden the appeal of the municipal ID program by, for example, encouraging holders to shop locally through a discount program.
“We want to hear from people, we want their ideas,” said Acevedo. “We want this to be something that works for everybody.”