When a gas line exploded in her East Harlem district last March, killing eight people, Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito helped deal with the urgent fallout, like finding housing for the dozens displaced by the disaster. But she also thought about how the process might be made a bit easier, particularly for people who’d been injured but were wary of seeking city services because they were undocumented immigrants.
This afternoon, Mark-Viverito was in Brooklyn watching as Mayor Bill de Blasio followed through on a campaign pledge, signing a bill passed last month by the City Council to create a new municipal identification card. By the end of this year anyone who provides proof of their identity and residency in the five boroughs will be issued a card that can serve as ID for such mundane but vital needs as gaining entry to a public school for a parent-teacher conference. The city is still negotiating with banks to allow the ID to be used to open accounts; also to be determined is the fee for applying, though the card will be issued free for the first year.
“These are our friends and our family, who are already living amongst us, and that are paying taxes and contributing to our communities,” Mark-Viverito says. “This is a way of saying, ‘We value that contribution. Now here’s a card that says you can access city services.’”
De Blasio is staging the bill signing at an especially charged moment for immigration politics. Tens of thousands of migrants have been crossing the Mexican border, overwhelming social service facilities in Texas, Arizona, and California. Republicans in Congress have been using the humanitarian crisis as yet another way to brand President Obama a failure.
The mayor and the City Council, by taking action to integrate immigrants into society while Washington is mired in partisan squabbling, are offering themselves as a responsible contrast. And New York’s willingness to open its arms to the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses has indeed been, for hundreds of years, both a moral and an economic triumph.
Yet the city — already grappling with school overcrowding and a shortage of affordable housing — isn’t immune to the practical challenges of the surge in immigration. Hundreds of unaccompanied minors from Central America have turned to community groups and the health-care system for aid.
Mark-Viverito says she doesn’t think the new municipal ID, by further codifying the city’s tolerance, will increase New York’s attraction to the newly arrived — and that even if it does, the city will cope.
“We have to adjust for a growing population with our budget and our public policies,” she says. “But people, regardless of whether they’re immigrants or not, come to the city looking for hope. So to try to target one group of individuals that want to come to New York to seek that opportunity and say somehow they’re not welcome over others, I don’t accept that at all. New York City has always been that place where, regardless of who you are, everyone who wants to contribute positively, we welcome you. That’s never going to change.”