Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1133 Fri, 28 Feb 2020 03:03:57 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) No Matter Trump’s Agenda, Refugees Remain Welcome in New York City https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9097-no-matter-trump-s-agenda-refugees-remain-welcome-in-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9097-no-matter-trump-s-agenda-refugees-remain-welcome-in-new-york-city ban refugee remarks

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


Our nation has long been a beacon of hope for those fleeing their home country due to violence and persecution based on their race, nationality, religion, political beliefs, or membership in a social group. With resettlement as a refugee’s last option for safety, we have welcomed them and supported their successful integration in the United States for nearly 40 years with the establishment of the Refugee Resettlement Program.

Under the Trump administration, however, this country’s proud tradition of welcoming refugees and recognizing the contributions and impact of hardworking immigrants is under threat.

On September 26, 2019, President Trump signed Executive Order 13888—an unprecedented move to allow states and localities to block refugees from being resettled in their communities. His administration also capped total refugee admissions to a historic low of 18,000 at a time when the number of refugees and displaced people worldwide is at the highest point since World War II.

And as we’ve just honored Holocaust Remembrance Day this week, we must not forget the dark times out of which these policies and programs were created. Our nation turned a blind eye as millions of Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, including the hundreds of thousands that applied to immigrate to our country but were turned away due to the strict immigration laws and quotas that were in place at that time.

It was out of this humanitarian crisis that our country vowed not only to never forget, but never go back. Congress passed the first piece of refugee legislation in 1948, which would eventually become the Refugee Resettlement Program as we know it today. A profound moment of moral leadership and recognition that to sit idly by while the “victims of war and oppression” look to us for refuge is to hold “their fate in…our hands.”

Despite the best efforts of the Trump administration to dismantle the refugee program and take us back to those dark times, states and localities – many who share the deeply personal, profound, and real stories of refugees in their communities – have responded with an outpouring of support.

From Phoenix, Arizona, to Burleigh County, North Dakota, to Worthington, Minnesota, jurisdictions from across the nation have affirmed their commitment to resettle refugees in their communities and have recognized that true leadership considers the moral responsibility we hold to care for our fellow human beings who seek refuge from persecution. 

New York City not only proudly issued consent to resettle refugees, but the city went a step further and joined a multi-city amicus brief in support of the litigation challenging the president’s order. Mayor de Blasio also joined with leaders across the nation urging the Trump administration to rescind the executive order and return this year’s refugee admissions cap to previous levels. And on January 15 a federal judge blocked the executive order from going into effect for the time being.

The message is loud and clear: refugees are not only welcome, but they are invaluable assets to every community they make home. With refugee workforce participation at 81.8 percent, far more than the 63 percent national average, and with refugees quickly surpassing United States median household income and owning more businesses than any other group—immigrant or otherwise—refugees contribute meaningfully to our economy as earners, taxpayers, and job creators. They enrich our neighborhoods and communities through their cultural contributions, civic participation, and engagement. 

It is shameful that the Trump administration continues to turn its back on refugee and immigrant communities. Just this week, the Supreme Court made the deeply troubling decision to allow the Trump administration’s xenophobic Public Charge Rule to go into effect—targeting working immigrant families. While the merits of the case are still being fought in court, millions of families, children, and the elderly are at risk.

May our history guide us in the recognition that from a place of darkness and depravity our country grew small and stained and from there we had no choice but to embrace the light and commit to a better and more just way.

At a time when there are so many efforts to divide us, communities in New York and across the country continue to say, we will never go back to closing doors on those in need, and we will not allow the Trump administration to scare us into silence.

***
Bitta Mostofi is Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. On Twitter @bittamostofi of @NYCImmigrants.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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No Matter Trump’s Agenda, Refugees Remain Welcome in New York City Fri, 31 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Examines Board of Elections' Readiness to Implement Early Voting, Poll-Site Interpretation https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8491-city-council-examines-board-of-elections-readiness-to-implement-early-voting https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8491-city-council-examines-board-of-elections-readiness-to-implement-early-voting voting gen elect

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The New York City Board of Elections, a state entity funded by the city, has a less-than-stellar reputation for running elections and has long been resistant to going beyond the letter of state law in improving voter access and participation. And this year, the city BOE must contend with a new state mandate to create an early voting program for potentially millions of voters, as well as a push by the city to provide broader poll site interpretation services in immigrant communities.

At a Tuesday hearing of the New York City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, officials from the BOE testified to the complexities of implementing the new early voting mandate by the November election.

The state Legislature recently approved the program, which requires nine consecutive days of early voting before Election Day and, according to the provisions of the law, a minimum of 34 poll sites across the city. The state also passed legislation to allow the use of electronic poll books at poll sites. The state BOE approved regulations for early voting on Monday and the city BOE faces a deadline to declare its chosen sites on Wednesday, May 1.

While Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday called for the BOE to offer 100 early voting sites across the city, offering the board $75 million to do so, the BOE does not appear ready to meet the mayor’s request. Not long after BOE executives testified before the Council, the board's commissioners voted to approve 38 early voting polling sites for November, inviting criticism from the mayor and others.

There will be 10 sites in Brooklyn and seven each in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island. The board also determined early voting hours, which will vary based on date leading up to the November 5 Election Day. Voters will receive their early voting poll site assignment from the BOE. 

The City Council committee hearing also delved into a new bill proposed by Brooklyn Council Member Mark Treyger that would require the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee, a nonpartisan entity housed under the New York City Campaign Finance Board, to provide interpretation services at poll sites in several languages beyond what is currently required by state and federal law.

The bill would help facilitate the work of the city’s newly created Civic Engagement Commission, approved by voters in a ballot referendum last year, that is charged with, among other things, developing a poll site interpretation services program. Still, the city BOE has repeatedly argued that it is not under the jurisdiction of city laws, but of state laws, complicating matters.

Early Voting Poses Challenges
New York has long been a laggard in voter turnout and election reform, and it became the 38th state to approve early voting this year. But the program is a monumental lift, particularly for the five boroughs of New York City, home to 8.5 million residents.

The recently approved legislation to create the program requires one early voting site for every 50,000 registered voters in a county and no more than seven sites, though local counties have the discretion to add more. The 2020 state budget includes $10 million in funding for early voting and $14.1 million for electronic poll books for the entire state, distributed according to a formula that the state BOE must create.  

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio offered the city BOE $75 million to establish 100 polling sites for early voting (he included an additional $21 million for the purchase of electronic poll books in his executive budget proposal last week).

“We have to get early voting right, and we're saying very clearly to the Board of Elections, we'll put our money where our mouth is,” de Blasio said.

At the Tuesday Council hearing, New York City’s new and first chief democracy officer, Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune, emphasized the importance of instituting a robust early voting program. “If a significant percentage of New York City voters vote during the early voting period, we may be able to reduce some of the strain that we see on our Election Day systems that has led to breakdowns at polling places,” she said. “Lines will be shorter, poll sites will be less crowded.”

She noted that early voting also correlates with higher participation, and stressed that seven sites in each county are “not sufficient to accommodate the needs of voters in New York City.” She pointed out, for instance, that Brooklyn would essentially have the same number of sites as upstate counties one-fifth the registered voters.

BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan, a few hours before the board's commissioners make their early voting decisions, repeatedly emphasized that early voting is a complicated endeavor and that the city must take a cautious approach in order to establish a strong foundation for the program that will allow it to grow and improve over time.

When the program was approved, the city did not have the infrastructure in place to implement it, he said, and is in the process of creating it, including providing a system of ballots on demand to voters. Among the issues is that the board must approve a new vendor to provide electronic poll books, which will happen in June, and then has to train poll workers in the new systems.  

Ryan stressed that the board is willing to work with the de Blasio administration and the City Council to ensure they create an efficient program, but he insisted that in soliciting input from other jurisdictions that have long had early voting programs, the BOE has been warned of the many variables and challenges they face. “The worst thing that we could do is get overly ambitious and not have it work and undermine...voter confidence,” he said, emphasizing the need to phase in a program over time.

“There will be obstacles. Nothing will be perfect...There’s gonna be many lessons learned,” said Dawn Sandow, the BOE’s deputy executive director. As usual, none of the board’s commissioners, political appointees from the local Democratic and Republican parties who are confirmed through the Council, testified before the Council. Those commissioners make many essential decisions to BOE operations, which are carried out by Ryan, Sandow, and their employees.

Voting reform advocates celebrated the passage of early voting and praised the mayor for offering a massive boost in funding. But even they cautioned at the hearing that the BOE must be careful in implementing a new system that could cause confusion among both voters who must use it and the poll workers who must administer it. Some also raised concerns about cyber security and urged the BOE to ensure adequate firewalls and redundancies to protect election systems and the integrity of individual votes.

Interpreting State Law and City Mandates
As a creature of state law, the BOE has consistently opposed the mayoral administration and City Council’s efforts to impose new mandates on its operations. Since 2017, it has refused to abide by a local law requiring the postage of signs when a poll site is moved. More recently, the city again ran up against the BOE when it attempted to provide language interpretation services in poll site buildings.

By state and federal law, the BOE is only required to provide interpretation services in five languages -- Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Bangla -- which city officials and advocates say is insufficient for New York City’s population, which speaks hundreds of languages.

The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs had additionally sought to provide services in Russian, Haitian Creole, Yiddish, and Polish within poll site buildings during the February 26 special election for public advocate. But the BOE sued the city, arguing that since the interpreters were not hired and trained by the board, they would be engaging in a form of electioneering and therefore must remain at a distance of at least 100 feet from a polling site.

A state judge rejected the BOE’s argument and did not issue an injunction against the city, allowing interpreters into poll sites. But the BOE has appealed and that ongoing litigation could determine whether the city can continue to provide those services for future elections.

Both Tregyer’s bill and the new Civic Engagement Commission would create a much more expansive interpretation services program. “Language access is not electioneering,” Treyger said, accusing the BOE of essentially taking actions that are “nothing short of voter suppression.”

But the BOE’s Ryan said the city should rather await the legislative process playing out at the state level. At the hearing, he pointed to bills introduced in February in the state Senate and Assembly that would preempt the city’s efforts if they pass.

“There really is no daylight, Councilman Treyger, between your position and the board’s position,” Ryan said. He noted that if the BOE were to provide interpretation services for any  particular linguistic group without being legally required to do so, it could give other groups the potential to sue under the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. “What we’re simply asking for is a structure, a legal structure, some authority to tell us legally ‘This is what you need to do,’” he said.

The de Blasio administration seemed to hedge its bets on Treyger’s proposal. MOIA Commissioner Bitta Mostofi said the administration supports the intent of the bill but did not express direct support for it. She said the CEC, rather than the VAAC, should be tasked with implementing it and that the bill was just one of the elements of implementing a program. “There should other factors that are taken into consideration when establishing where the services should be and what those services should be,” she said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Examines Board of Elections' Readiness to Implement Early Voting, Poll-Site Interpretation Tue, 30 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Proposed Changes to ‘Public Charge’ and Access to City Benefits: What To Know https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8190-proposed-changes-to-public-charge-and-access-to-city-benefits-what-to-know https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8190-proposed-changes-to-public-charge-and-access-to-city-benefits-what-to-know 24128710992 658f50cdcf z

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


New Yorkers know that it is the city government’s job to make sure that they’re taken care of. We fill potholes, pick up the trash, clean the streets, clear the drains, prune the trees - you name it.

But that’s not all we do. And while we faced many challenges as a city and as a nation in 2018, New Yorkers continue to step up and help their neighbors in need.

Through our public health facilities, tens of thousands of dedicated professionals help their fellow New Yorkers put food on the table, help expectant mothers get access to critical health care, help seniors make ends meet, and so much more. We even helped non-English speaking eligible voters participate in our democracy, by expanding our poll-site interpretation program. We work to serve New Yorkers every day because that’s our number one job. It’s why we’re here.

Back in October, the Trump administration announced a proposal concerning “public charge,” a complex aspect of immigration law. If implemented, the proposal would make it easier for immigration officials to prevent an otherwise eligible person from getting a green card or certain kinds of visas. They could make that life-changing decision just because one day, the applicant could find herself or himself down on their luck and in need of important public resources.

Over 200,000 public comments were submitted to the federal register – a truly remarkable display of civic participation and responsiveness from residents of all walks of life. We thank you, and every single New Yorker who took the time to make their voice heard on this issue.

We can all agree that in this country – in this city – of immigrants, no one should have to choose between relying on the help for which they’re legally eligible and pursuing the American Dream.

In the past few months, we’ve heard from folks across the five boroughs, some scared or confused, and even more who want to know how to help their fellow New Yorkers.

So let’s get some facts straight.

First: the public charge proposal is not in effect, and nothing about eligibility for benefits has changed. New York City’s doors remain open to those in need. The Department of Social Services is continuing to accept applications from all New Yorkers for benefits, and is continuing to deliver benefits and services to all who are eligible. The same is true for all of the public hospitals and community clinics operated by NYC Health + Hospitals. If you’re in need of health care, you’ll be able to find it there.

Second: many immigrants would not be impacted by this proposal. If you are a naturalized citizen, a refugee, an asylee, or a green card holder thinking about renewing or becoming a U.S. citizen, this proposal would not apply to you. This is also true for many other categories of immigrants.

That leads us to the next – and very important – point.

Third: If you are concerned about this proposal’s possible impacts on you or your family, don’t make any decisions without getting safe and trusted legal advice first.

You can get help in many languages by calling the Office of New Americans hotline, operated by Catholic Charities, at 1-800-566-7636. You can also call the city’s 311 and say “ActionNYC” to schedule a free consultation with a trusted immigration legal services provider, funded by the City of New York.

If New Yorkers begin to disenroll from health care, nutrition, or housing programs for which they’re eligible, the consequences could be dire. We could face a public health crisis and lose hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity annually.

As public servants, our job is to serve you. And in the fairest big city in America, no one should struggle alone. We’ve got your back.

***
Bitta Mostofi is the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Steven Banks is the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca is chair of the Immigration Committee, City Council Member Mark Levine is chair of the Health Committee, City Council Member Stephen Levin is chair of the General Welfare Committee.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Proposed Changes to ‘Public Charge’ and Access to City Benefits: What To Know Wed, 09 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
City’s First Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Trains Candidates to Transform Democracy https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8019-city-s-first-immigrant-affairs-commissioner-trains-candidates-to-transform-democracy https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8019-city-s-first-immigrant-affairs-commissioner-trains-candidates-to-transform-democracy sayubook ahc

Sayu Bhojwani (photo: Sean Zanni)


On the same day the planes struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Sayu Bhojwani cast her first ever ballot in an American election.

It was a series of strange coincidences for Bhojwani: a newly naturalized citizen voting for the first time, a tragic event triggering a hostile and xenophobic environment for many immigrant communities in New York, and a referendum on the ballot that fateful Tuesday that would establish an Office for Immigrant Affairs in the city Charter – the very office Mayor Michael Bloomberg would appoint her to helm as the first commissioner just six months later.

“Had I been appointed commissioner a year earlier, before September 11, it would have felt very different,” said Bhojwani, 51, at a recent press conference with NYU journalism students. An Indian immigrant from Belize, she first arrived in the U.S. at age 17 for college. “The symbolism of someone from my community being in that position was far more important than I realized to the community,” she said.

Bhojwani has been busy in the 14 years since her two-year stint as the commissioner of the Office of Immigrant Affairs, where she acted as a liaison between the Bloomberg administration and the city’s many immigrant communities and an advisor to the mayor on related policy. This month, the New Press published her debut book, “People Like Us: The New Wave of Candidates Knocking at Democracy’s Door,” a quasi-how-to-run manual centered on immigrant experiences in politics. Much of the book’s anecdotes come from candidates who worked with New American Leaders, the non-partisan organization Bhojwani founded in 2010 that trains immigrants and other underrepresented communities to run for office.

Her timely appointment as the first commissioner of Immigrant Affairs in New York City may seem serendipitous, but the main tenet of “People Like Us” is not to say that representatives from marginalized communities are elected through happenstance. Rather, her book highlights the unique struggles that distinguish candidates of color – and, in particular, those with immigrant backgrounds – from the usual players and power-brokers within the political system.

So often, immigrants running for office face what Bhojwani calls “our own glass ceilings,” a psychological barrier that keeps candidates from believing that they are ready to serve in public office. But there are also systematic setbacks, like a lack of financial means to run a competitive campaign, that keep people from entering the political arena. Candidates of color often do not have the same access to wealth as white candidates, they are often not part of the same networks of power.

“We don’t realize that it’s a system. That’s the problem,” Bhojwani said. “We think, ‘Oh, it’s us. If only I had more networks. If only I studied more.’”

Bhojwani mentions that New York City dismantles several institutional setbacks present in other places or levels of government. The city has term limits and a public financing system for municipal positions, pays good salaries, and is home to single-member districts – all of which help to prime the political arena for newcomers.

Still, New York can do better, Bhojwani argues, at both the city and state levels.

In 2015, Latinos made up 8 percent of the New York State Legislature although they composed nearly 19 percent of the state’s population, according to a study conducted by the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Additionally, only two Asian-American representatives, Assemblymembers Ron Kim and Yuh-Line Niou, currently serve in a Legislature of 213 seats. And in a city where women are over 50 percent of the population, only 11 of the City Council’s 51 members are female. In fact, the underrepresentation of women in the City Council spurred 21 in ‘21, an initiative launched by former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others to elect at least 21 women into the Council by the year 2021, which is the next city election cycle.

Along with underrepresentation in New York government, newcomer candidates must also overcome the challenge presented by establishment-backed competitors, including incumbents, and the state’s well-oiled Democratic machinery.

“The Democratic machine is incredibly strong in New York,” Bhojwani said. However, in the wake of a robust primary season that saw insurgent, progressive challengers unseat a web of incumbents in the State Senate as well as long-time Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, she added, “I think everything is topsy-turvy this year.”

Candidates like Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez, who defeated Crowley, and Julia Salazar, women of color who both handily defeated Democratic incumbents in their respective district primaries after campaigning on their immigrant backstories (Salazar with much controversy), are part of this reactionary wave of young progressives aiming to carve out a place for themselves and their community in the political landscape.

After the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, Bhojwani said that New American Leaders (NAL) experienced an 80 percent increase in the number of applications that same year.

Catalina Cruz – likely to become the first ‘Dreamer’ to serve in elected office in New York after winning her primary election for State Assembly in a Queens district including neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona – tapped into NAL’s network after deciding she wanted to run in November of last year.

“The importance of having a program that recognizes the uniqueness of the immigrant experience of trying to run for office, it’s key at getting more immigrants and people of color to actually run for office,” Cruz said of NAL in comparison to other candidate-training organizations.

At a weekend-long conference hosted by NAL, Cruz gained crucial insight on how to run a campaign and to navigate different elements of the political system. The path to political office is a trail she says is tread upon differently by women of color and, particularly, those from low-income backgrounds, than by traditional politicians. Asking for campaign donations, for example, was a psychological barrier she had to overcome. “When you grow up poor, like a lot of us did in [NAL’s conference], you have a very different relationship with money,” Cruz said. “So asking for donations is not the easiest thing to do because you are taught that nobody outside your house was supposed to know you're having money issues.” For Cruz, NAL’s training session helped to unpack this key campaign component.

“What we face when we walk in a room in politics is very different than people who are not immigrants,” Cruz said.

NAL training sessions – which require a $150 registration fee, although waivers are available for those who can’t afford it – hone the skills that potential candidates already have. The workshops also provide resources for the basics of running a campaign, such as public speaking, fundraising, and campaign messaging.

The organization emphasizes the importance of preserving a candidate’s story. “There’s a lot of whitewashing that happens of candidates,” Bhojwani said. “We really emphasize the importance of showing up the way you are and talking about it.”

NAL has trained over 600 people since its inception in 2010, with 63 alumni in elected office. One of them is Carlos Menchaca, the City Council member for Brooklyn’s District 38, who is also the city’s first Mexican-American in public office and the first openly gay Council member from Brooklyn.

“One of the biggest influences that the New American Leaders has had on me is helping me realize how powerful my immigrant story is,” said Menchaca, who is featured in Bhojwani’s book. “That can be one of the most powerful things that can happen in a campaign running for office.”

When Menchaca first ran for City Council in 2013, he attempted to unseat incumbent Sara Gonzalez, a daunting task that he took on with enthusiasm and skill, but no infrastructure. Menchaca started small. He called his friends, old classmates, people who knew him, and asked each for a $38 donation for the 38th district. “That's the thing about the New American Leaders,” Menchaca said. “They make you realize that you have a powerful network of people who believe in you and and that share the values that you have.” Within the first two weeks, Menchaca raised $40,000 – twice the required amount needed to run – for his campaign.

He ended up winning a hard-fought primary, the only candidate to unseat an incumbent in that year’s primaries, and went on to win the general election with 90 percent of the vote. However, unseating establishment-backed incumbents -- or any incumbents, really -- is “not the kind of thing that happens regularly in New York,”  Bhojwani said.

“Machine politics are very strong with the caveat that the ground is shaking beneath us right now,” Bhojwani said of 2018.

What comes next is unclear. While NAL experienced a surge of applications in the wake of Trump’s inauguration, it is still hard to generalize an entire movement or to predict its trajectory in dismantling a system of barriers for immigrants in U.S. politics, Bhojwani said.

“I think about the work we do as being about expanding the tent of democracy…rather than saying, 'OK, I'm going to run and I'm going to get South Asian voters to support me,'” Bhojwani said. “That is not how Catalina or Alexandria…won, right? They won by inviting more people to participate.”

***
by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

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City’s First Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Trains Candidates to Transform Democracy Mon, 29 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
New Data Indicates IDNYC Popularity Among Immigrants https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6085-new-data-indicates-idnyc-popularity-among-immigrants https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6085-new-data-indicates-idnyc-popularity-among-immigrants idny bdb mmv museum

The Mayor & others flash their IDNYC (photo: Madeleine Ball)


It has been one year since New York City launched its ambitious municipal identification program, dubbed IDNYC, and reports show that the program has been a resounding success. More than 725,000 card applications have been approved, about 10 percent of the eligible population of New Yorkers 14 years of age or older.

One of the primary purposes of the program is to provide valid identification for undocumented immigrants living in New York City, of which there are an estimated 640,000. By the very nature of the program -- accepting applications regardless of immigration status and not asking about it on application forms -- quantifying enrollment among undocumented immigrants is hard, if not impossible. But, as the success of the card has led to its celebration and assumptions that undocumented New Yorkers are taking advantage of the program, there is indeed evidence that the de Blasio administration and advocates point to.

Ancillary data provided to Gotham Gazette by the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, which is one of the agencies leading implementation of IDNYC, indicates that immigrants in large numbers have availed of the program.

By the end of last year, 732,630 people had applied for the ID, with a high ratio of enrollment coming from immigrant-rich communities across the five boroughs. In Queens, 25,366 identity cards were issued in Corona, another 28,707 in Flushing and 13,654 in Jackson Heights. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, 22,139 people were issued IDNYC. In Manhattan, 10,142 Chinatown residents and 27,213 people from Washington Heights enrolled in the program.

In providing further indication of interest from immigrant New Yorkers, MOIA reported that 52 percent of IDNYC inquiries to the city's 311 helpline were from non-English speakers. Of these, 88 percent spoke Spanish, 4.6 percent spoke Mandarin, followed in turn by Cantonese, Russian, Korean, and at least nine other languages.

"We knew there was a huge need for identification but the dramatic response was more than we expected," said MOIA Commissioner Nisha Agarwal in an interview. "This indirect data suggests that immigrants are benefitting from it."

Non-profit organizations that work with immigrants agree that IDNYC has been an unqualified success. "If hundreds of thousands of people are getting the IDs, you can imagine that tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants are getting it," said Thanu Yakupitiyage, communications manager for the New York Immigration Coalition. NYIC is an umbrella advocacy organization that works with more than 200 groups across the city helping immigrants and refugees.

"Immigrants now feel that they're part of the city in a meaningful way," said Yakupitiyage. "For immigrants, the IDNYC is supporting police-community relations. They can now enter municipal and federal buildings, sign a lease and get a bank account. It's a badge of being a New Yorker." She also cited the program's unprecedented success compared to other municipal identification initiatives elsewhere in the country, such as San Francisco, where enrollment in the first year only touched about two percent.

Other groups tell similar stories. Jose Calderon, president of the Hispanic Federation, said that thousands of the people they serve have received the identity cards and now feel a sense of safety and security from it. "It's changed lives in ways that it's hard to quantify, but it's transformative," he said. "It has opened up a new city to people who for decades, even generations have been denied it."

Calderon said the next step forward would be ensuring that immigrants can receive all the benefits of the card. "We're hoping this ID creates a bridge between the financial sector and this largely unbanked community," he said. "The hope is to make that connection that's long been missing."

This will take some work. Major banks operating in New York recently announced that they would not be accepting IDNYC as a primary source of identification in opening a bank account. This was met with disappointment by leading elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller SCott Stringer, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Amalgamated Bank, among about a dozen financial institutions operating about 75 branches across the city, does accept IDNYC for banking purposes.

In announcing an expanded year two for IDNYC in December, de Blasio called it "the leading municipal identification program in the country, and an example to cities all across the world."

In a statement at the time, Mark-Viverito pointed to access for all, saying, "No matter your status, whether it's immigrant, economic, financial, or if you're homeless or transgender, New Yorkers will be able to take advantage of benefits by signing up for this valuable card."

Make the Road New York's co-executive director, Javier Valdes, called IDNYC a "homerun." He said it provides immigrants security and alleviates the anxiety in interactions with the police. His main concern is related to banking, he said.

Valdes also hoped that the program stays affordable. "It's going to be free for the second year as well, which I think should be done in perpetuity," he said. There had been some speculation that the card would cost around ten dollars in the second year, but the city announced it would remain free and that there were enhanced benefits, continuing its efforts to make the card appealing to all New Yorkers.

Besides keeping IDNYC free of cost, the city has already announced partnerships with more cultural institutions for 2016, bringing the total to more than 40 museums and other organizations. The IDNYC also provides discounts on pet adoptions, the New York Theatre Ballet, soccer matches of New York Football Club, and CitiBike memberships, among other benefits.

For MOIA's Agarwal, the next big step is increasing outreach efforts, particularly in immigrant communities. Last year, IDNYC held pop-up enrollments in 53 locations and the outreach team attended at least 1,700 community events, besides its massive advertising campaign. Agarwal said they would set up more pop-up enrollment centers and also look into bringing art and culture to the program with the help of an artist-in-residence at MOIA.

"We're exploring the next generation of IDNYC enrollment," she said. Her focus will be reaching out to vulnerable groups such as youth populations (Last year, 21,239 minors received the card) and using more portable technology to work with seniors while making it easier to connect the card with city services.

"I think it unifies our city," said Valdes from Make the Road NY, "regardless of who you are, where you live or where you're from."

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by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid     @GothamGazette

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New Data Indicates IDNYC Popularity Among Immigrants Thu, 14 Jan 2016 00:15:25 +0000