One of the first things Ana Maria did when she got her New York City ID card was go to the library — to get books. Information. She checks out CDs and magazines, too, to practice her English.
But she also checks out poetry in Spanish.
I met Ana Maria at a church in Staten Island. She's an undocumented immigrant and she asked me not to use her last name. Ana Maria can’t use her ID to drive — but, for her, it’s nice to have access to all those books in the library, just like other New Yorkers.
Getting a library card might not be a big deal to most Americans. But then, think about how much more this ID card gave Ana Maria. How many times a day do you show your state ID? When you use your credit card, get a drink, even go to the movies, depending on your taste in films. If you are undocumented, these small tasks can cause anxiety. But for years now, cities like San Francisco and Oakland and Trenton, New Jersey, have been issuing IDs to residents, regardless of immigration status. In New York, the ID can be used to open a bank account, or get discounts at museums.
For Araceli, who also didn't want to be identified by her full name, the ID means a lot more. She's also undocumented. That used to mean she couldn’t go to PTA meetings at her kids’ school. They required an ID to let visitors in — because of terrorism threats and mass shootings.
Now, with her New York City ID, she can come and go freely. It’s helped her develop a closer relationship with teachers — something that, she says, helped save her life: When her ex-husband’s beatings started getting more severe, one teacher said she needed to call the police. Araceli says the ID made her feel safer doing that, too — less worried about having to prove who she was.
The New York City ID was controversial at its inception, and it's coming under fire again. Critics say giving people who aren't authorized to live in the US easier access to bank accounts and schools is dangerous. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio disagrees. He and immigration advocates say it’s about bringing people out of the shadows. De Blasio promised recently to destroy the records of undocumented immigrants who’ve applied for an ID, people like Araceli and Ana Maria — to protect them from being targeted by the Trump administration's immigration officials.
Doing that, critics say, threatens cities’ safety.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis represents Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. She’s one of the two Republican lawmakers suing to stop the city from destroying the records of people who’ve applied for the ID. "Our concern is, if you’re giving out government-issued identification cards, if there were to be an investigation, or there were judicial inquiries into a cardholder, then all the records would not be there anymore to satisfy those requests," she says.
Malliotakis' opponents accuse her of fearmongering, but she says this is a real concern that should be taken seriously. "If you do a Google search for fake passports, you’ll see countless stories. So, I mean, it’s something serious. This is not something we’re just making up to scare people, this is a legitimate thing. The Berlin attacker had 14 different identifications."
Ana Maria says she’s worried. Will the ID in her purse get her deported from the US? Did she make a mistake getting it in the first place?
Favio Ramirez-Caminatti runs El Centro NYC, an immigrant rights group in Staten Island. He’s telling immigrants the ID is a good thing, and they should get one. "This is our city. A lot of people here have been living in New York for 20, 30 years," he explains. "They work here. Their children study here. They pay taxes here. And this is our city."
Documented or not, the ID is about living here like anyone else, Ramirez-Caminatti says. But now some immigrants here wonder whether getting that ID at all might cause them more trouble in the end.
From PRI's The World ©2016 PRI