NYC Council Committee on Immigration: IDNYC is Great, but Many Refugees are Left Out

This morning I spoke to the New York City Council’s Committee on Immigration. I praised NYC’s municipal identification program (IDNYC), which helps many New Yorkers receive much needed proof of identification, including Human Rights First clients seeking asylum. Without proper identification, it can be a struggle for our clients to even enter their pro bono lawyers’ buildings, much less access other crucial services. IDNYC helps fill this gap for vulnerable groups like torture survivors and other asylum seekers, especially those who do not have a permanent mailing address.

However, there is one group of New York City residents that would greatly benefit from the IDNYC program, but cannot do so: refugees who fled their countries in search of safety and protection, entered the United States at a border crossing, and were then placed in immigration detention.

Many of these refugees carried their own valid identification documents, such as passports, birth certificates, or driver’s licenses, when they entered the United States. But the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confiscates these documents and holds them until their immigration proceedings are completed—a process that can take years.

DHS often issues its own documentation to asylum seekers, like the I-94, which is sometimes supplied to immigrants paroled into the United States for humanitarian reasons. This document often contains the individual’s name, date of birth, country of origin, photo, and fingerprint. Yet the I-94 receives zero points in IDNYC’s “U.S. Federal Government issued photo ID” category. This leaves many refugees in a catch-22: they need ID to get ID, and the federally issued ID that they do have carries no weight in the IDNYC system.

By accepting the I-94 and other DHS-issued documentation as proof of identity, many more deserving New York City residents would have access to IDNYC and its benefits. At today’s hearing, Committee Chair Carlos Menchaca indicated that they would look into expanding the list of qualifying documents. We strongly recommend that the New York City Council add documents such as the I-94. IDNYC is an excellent program and we are thankful that Councilman Menchaca and the rest of the Committee are committed to improving it. We hope to see many more of Human Rights First’s clients proudly carrying their IDNYC cards.

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Published on May 1, 2015

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