The premier Spanish-language newspaper, El Diario, turns to Catholic Charities Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services C. Mario Russell for regular updates on immigration reform.
By C. Mario Russell
The week before last, New York City joined with the growing number of cities and communities–like Hartford, Connecticut, San Francisco, California, and, as just announced this week in Newark, New Jersey —a plan that will explore offering all their citizens, residents, and members a municipal identity card. This is something to celebrate as good for city residents and good for our city.
There are about 500,000 undocumented mothers, fathers, and children who live, work, and go to school in New York City. Each day they seek the basics: steady employment, a stable family, hope for the future, and security. For the most part they are unseen and unheard. But, like silent generations of immigrants before them, each day they bring new life to this city whose economic and cultural achievements we take such pride in. Each day they contribute to its magnificent legacy.
The new ID will give these New Yorkers a chance to run their day-to-day lives a little more easily. This is good for everyone. With these IDs people will be able to cash checks, open a bank or credit account, sign a lease, and enter public buildings. Parents will be able to access public schools for parent-teacher conferences. They won’t have to worry about being turned away from visiting their child in a hospital. These are not extravagant rights for the undocumented. Moreover, these municipal IDs make work easier for everyone else including teachers, merchants, and professionals.
One of the most important life-improvements that comes with the ID is legal identification in case of a law enforcement stop, such as an arrest. When someone is questioned by the police, an officer will often ask to know who the person is. The card makes it easier for that identity check to happen in real-time and the encounter terminates there. Again, not an extravagant right, but it makes work easier for the police and protects people.
As was said by one long-time undocumented resident, “I’m basically invisible in this city without proper identification. My husband and I work hard every day; we have children and the security that something as simple as an ID card will give us cannot be overstated.” This is not an extravagant request; just a basic wish we all share and will benefit from.
C. Mario Russell is Senior Attorney and Director of Immigrant and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities, 80 Maiden Lane, NY, NY 10038. He teaches immigration law at St. John’s University School of Law.