Testimony of Meeta Patel, Supervising Attorney for the Immigration Protection Unit, Before the New York City Council Committee on Immigration Regarding Oversight and Implementation of the Municipal ID Program

May 1, 2015

Chair Menchaca, Councilmembers and staff, good morning and thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify on the City’s Municipal ID program. My name is Meeta Patel and I am a Supervising Attorney for the Immigrant Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group.  NYLAG is a nonprofit law office dedicated to providing free legal services in civil law matters to low-income New Yorkers. NYLAG serves immigrants, seniors, the homebound, families facing foreclosure, renters facing eviction, low-income consumers, those in need of government assistance, children in need of special education, domestic violence victims, persons with disabilities, patients with chronic illness or disease, low-wage workers, low-income members of the LGBTQ community, Holocaust survivors, veterans, as well as others in need of free legal services.

NYLAG has worked closely with City Council and the Mayor’s office of Immigrant Affairs along with a wide range of community advocates and organizers to help shape and implement New York City’s Municipal ID program.  This is a program that we are very proud of and which is hugely valuable to many of our clients many of whom are undocumented, homeless or have struggled to obtain government issued ID that accurately reflects their gender.

Why Is a Municipal ID Card Important to Immigrant and LGBTQ Communities?

The Municipal ID program has proved critical in encouraging immigrant integration into the fabric of New York City. Our experience as legal advocates for immigrants informs us that many of our undocumented clients harbor entrenched fears and anxieties regarding daily city routines and especially interactions with government officials of any stripe. Simply entering many buildings in New York City requires showing government issued identification, and many undocumented individuals don’t wish to use their foreign identification for fear of revealing their undocumented status. Worries about interacting with government agencies and revealing immigration status have contributed to the unequal delivery of services between non-immigrants and immigrants. Many individuals abstain from accessing services to which they are entitled, such as critical emergency services like calling the police or fire departments for assistance, interacting with the schools and/or teachers of their U.S. citizen (USC) children, or accessing nutrition assistance for USC children. The Municipal ID program has given many of our immigrant clients the sense of freedom that comes with having the identification necessary to perform daily routines without anxiety and interact with municipal agencies without fear, a privilege that many documented New Yorkers take for granted.

Having access to accurate and valid government issued ID cards is a particularly pressing issue for transgender and gender non-conforming communities.  Transgender people are more likely to have problems obtaining accurate and valid ID documents. Family rejection and homelessness in transgender communities is even more severe than for other communities.  Over 50% of transgender people have experienced significant family rejection, and one in three transgender New Yorkers has been homeless.  Not having valid ID that accurately reflect a person’s self-identified gender is one of the greatest factors in causing discrimination and often leads to humiliation, harassment and violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people.  Valid ID is needed to apply for work, enter most buildings in New York, travel, use a credit card, produce upon request from law enforcement, and many other daily interactions.  NYLAG has collaborated with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) and Make the Road New York to offer name changes for transgender applicants and we would be thrilled to continue offering these services through clinics.

The New York City Municipal ID allows for self-attestation of gender, which prevents the burden of unattainable and often unwanted surgery and resulting sterilization, the creation of discriminatory practices for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals and the encroachment on an individual’s right to privacy.  Many New Yorkers that identify as LGBTQ have been able to attain New York City’s Municipal ID and have benefitted from the option of not including a gender marker on the identification and from being able to self attest to gender. Anecdotally, community members have stated that workers application centers have been courteous and have respected preferred pronouns and self attested gender.  Our organization was very excited to offer the HRA/ Municipal ID employees training on LGBTQ cultural competency.  The training was well received and we would like to see the training repeated regularly for both new employees and existing employees who may have questions or issues come up in their work.

The fact that New York City residents who are homeless and/or are survivors of domestic violence may obtain Municipal IDs which do not include their addresses is critical to the integrity of the program. These vulnerable New Yorkers are unable or unwilling to provide a home address on their Municipal IDs due to economic insecurity or safety concerns, but like all New Yorkers, still need the benefits the Municipal ID program provides.

New York City’s Municipal ID is already changing lives for residents of the five boroughs, but we believe that there are a few steps that could be taken to strengthen the program even more:

Ways to Strengthen the City’s Municipal ID Program

  1. Ensuring Equal Service Delivery of Program to NYC Residents who are Homeless and/or Survivors of Domestic Violence.

It is important that the NYPD affirmatively accept the Municipal ID as valid identification in any encounter.  Every Municipal ID contains information similar to that of one’s passport, which is considered valid documentation when engaging with the police. Additionally, the program’s self-attested gender preference policy is in line with the NYPD Patrol Guide. There is no legitimate reason that the NYPD should not accept the Municipal ID as valid identification in any encounter. On the contrary, it is entirely consistent with the NYPD’s own guidelines.

  1. Continued Cultural Competency Training for Program Staff

We applaud the Municipal ID Program’s cultural competency training to date, including LGBTQ cultural competency. We encourage the program to regularly continue these training opportunities for their staff.

  1. Reconsideration of Documentation Retention Policy & Expansion of Acceptable Proofs of Residency

We encourage the City to reconsider its policy to retain Municipal ID program supporting documentation, accessible by subpoena, for 2 years. This policy may have the unintended consequence of deterring undocumented individuals from accessing the program for fear of ICE deporting them. We also encourage the City to expand the list of acceptable proof of City residency to include not only USCIS approval notices but also documents issued by the Office of Refugee Resettlement and ICE (for example detained individuals released on their own recognizance) which contain addresses of individuals.

  1. Continued Education and Acceptance

This program has proved incredibly successful and the City had to move quickly after its implementation to open more centers for residents to obtain the IDs.  We hope that the City will continue its outreach to diverse communities and provide education to people about the cards in multiple languages, as well as continue to ensure that agencies and other corporations and companies accept them as valid identification.  To that end, we suggest that NYC join other city governments in advocating for use of their respective Municipal IDs as valid identification for the purpose of opening bank accounts and credit union accounts.

We applaud the City Council, this Committee and Chair as well as the Mayor’s office for taking this critical step toward ensuring that all New Yorker’s have access to valid ID cards.  We urge you to continue to push for LGBTQ cultural competency training for all staff interacting with community members, affirmative acceptance by the NYPD of municipal ID cards issued to the homeless and survivors of DV and re-evaluation of the policy to retain supporting documents of applicants.  These efforts will make an already great program an even better one by recognizing the diverse needs of the people who call New York City their home.   Thank you for your time.

Respectfully submitted,

Meeta Patel, Esq.
Supervising Attorney, Immigrant Protection Unit