Dozens of activists and supporters turned out Tuesday night to witness the Kingston Common Council’s passage of a new law that will provide municipal ID cards to city residents. The vote caps a year-long campaign by immigration activists and others who say the cards will help connect vulnerable populations to vital services and make them feel welcome in the community.
“So many people in this room have been talking about this and hoping for this for so many years,” Worker Justice Center organizer Emma Kreyche told the council in a public speaking session before the meeting. “This is very meaningful.”
The new legislation, which passed the council in a unanimous vote, authorizes the City Clerk’s Office to begin issuing the local ID cards to all eligible city residents. The vote made Kingston the third Hudson Valley municipality, behind Poughkeepsie and Middletown, to authorize the local ID cards. The documents cost $10 or $5 for those under age 18 or over 62. Applicants will have to verify their Kingston residence by means of a utility bill or other document. The cards are issued based on a point system that assigns different values to different documents, including foreign passports, school transcripts, benefit cards and employment authorization documents. The law mandates that the ID be accepted for access to all city services including summer recreation programs and by city police except in situations precluded by state or federal law. The ID cards cannot be used to register to vote, obtain social services benefits or for any other purpose that requires state or federal identification.
Immigration advocates have led the way in pushing for the new ID cards after a state-level campaign to authorize driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants stalled. Supporters of the cards have framed it as a public safety issue arguing that without ID, undocumented immigrants and others may be reluctant to come forward as victims of or witnesses to crimes. People without identification, advocates say, also face hurdles when it comes to everyday issues like opening a bank account, picking up children from school, obtaining a library card or taking a GED exam. Supporters say that many immigrants, documented and otherwise, have difficulty obtaining state or federal ID because they lack birth certificates, Social Security cards and other supporting documents necessary to obtain them.
At Tuesday’s meeting supporters of the municipal ID program — some with help from Spanish translators — spoke about the difficulties they faced without government issued ID. Ysabel Baneto, who said she has lived in Kingston for 20 years said through a translator that she had struggled without an official ID card.
“It was very hard to go without ID for many things we have to do,” said Baneto. “At school, at the bank and everything.”
Opponents of the measure have portrayed it, along with the city’s earlier “welcoming and inclusive city” resolution, as a dangerous signal that Kingston is a “sanctuary city” which tolerates lawbreaking. Just two people spoke against the municipal ID law at Tuesday’s meeting — former Kingston Independence Party chairman Joe DiFalco and his wife Ellen, who in 2017 ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the Third Ward Common Council Seat.
“If you can’t get ID from the motor vehicles bureau … there’s something wrong with you,” said Joe DiFalco who at a Common Council meeting last month compared the municipal ID’s to “cheese” that would attract “rats.”
While immigration rights groups have led the drive for the municipal ID cards, supporters say the cards can benefit a wide array of marginalized groups. In communities where the Worker Justice Center have issued over 2,000 non-government-sponsored local ID cards since 2012, Kreyche has said, the documents have proven popular with youth, the elderly, domestic violence victims, the disabled and others who face obstacles to obtaining state or federal identity documents. Kreyche said a survey of the card-holders found that 35 percent had used the documents to identify themselves to police, 51 percent had used them for financial transactions and 72 percent said the cards had improved their sense of safety and security.
Ward 6 Alderman Tony Davis, a teacher at M. Clifford Miller Middle School, said that he had witnessed first-hand the challenges faced by parents who could not show school officials identification — difficulties that he said sometimes left them fearful of coming to school to pick up their children.
“It’s not about ‘they’ as I have heard in the past,” said Davis. “We’re all going to benefit from this ID program.”
Mayor Steve Noble has supported the municipal ID program. He is expected to sign the legislation following a public hearing later this month.