A judge is expected to rule soon on whether New York City can destroy records associated with an identification program commonly used by illegal immigrants who lack Social Security cards or driver’s licenses.
Earlier this month, Ron Castorina Jr. and Nicole Malliotakis, Republican members of the New York State Assembly from Long Island, filed a lawsuit contesting a provision of the identification program that says the city as of Dec. 31 can destroy records, including the personal information of applicants.
City Council member Carlos Menchaca, a Democrat representing Brooklyn, co-sponsored legislation creating the city’s identification program nearly two years ago. Menchaca said the measure calling for destroying data was intended to protect illegal immigrant applicants in case a future Republican president tried to access their personal information for immigration enforcement.
Menchaca told the New York Post the clause was included “in case a Tea Party Republican comes into office and says, ‘We want all of the data from all of the municipal ID programs in the country,’ we’re going to take the data.”
Since Donald Trump’s election as president, immigration advocacy groups and the city’s Democratic leadership have expressed concern that the new administration could try to pursue information from the ID program to fulfill its goal to increase deportations.
“The fear is that the Trump administration has made a lot of threats [about] deporting immigrants and they could use this data against immigrant communities,” Thanu Yakupitiyage, senior communications manager of the New York Immigration Coalition, a group that promotes policies that benefit immigrants, said in an interview with The Daily Signal.
Castorina and Malliotakis, in interviews with The Daily Signal, said security issues drive their concern about the prospect that the city will destroy documents associated with the identification program, known as IDNYC.
“Our lawsuit has nothing to do with immigration,” said Malliotakis, who is a daughter of Cuban and Greek immigrants.
Castorina and Malliotakis, the only two Republican members of the New York State Assembly who represent the city, did not vote on the IDNYC program because the City Council created it.
But the two lawmakers represent 300,000 New York City constituents between them, and they said they followed the program’s implementation closely. They became alarmed in September when New York state’s banking superintendent issued a directive encouraging all state-licensed banks and credit unions to accept identification administered through IDNYC.
Malliotakis said she worries that someone with “nefarious intent” could use the municipal identification, which is easy to qualify for, to open a bank account to “finance terror or engage in fraud.”
If the city destroys records associated with the program, she says, it would make it more difficult for law enforcement to investigate potential criminal cases.
“This lawsuit is about the safety and security of the people of New York City and our nation, and maintaining transparency and the rule of law in government,” Malliotakis told The Daily Signal. “That’s what it’s about. Everything else is a side issue that is not directly related to why we are seeking to preserve the documents.”
Earlier this month, in the first arguments of the lawsuit, Justice Philip G. Minardo of State Supreme Court on Staten Island delayed the impending Dec. 31 destruction of documents until a full hearing is convened in the first week of January.
Minardo requested that Mayor Bill de Blasio or City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—both Democrats—be present at the hearing.
“I don’t want to order the mayor or the council speaker to be here, but it would be helpful,” Minardo said, issuing an unusual request that reflects the weight of the challenge before him.
In January 2015, New York City introduced IDNYC as the country’s largest municipal identification program to help those who struggle to obtain government-issued identification, including illegal immigrants, the homeless, and victims of domestic violence.
Applicants must provide their name, address, and proof that they live in the city’s five boroughs, among other personal data.
The program does not ask applicants to reveal immigration status.
“IDNYC was advertised to New Yorkers as a badge of being a New Yorker, that you could get it regardless of immigration status,” Yakupitiyage, of the immigration coalition, said. “We were told this card is safe and the program ensures confidentiality.”
To obtain a card, an applicant can use a valid foreign passport or consular identification, along with a utility bill that verifies a city address. An expired foreign passport is acceptable for up to three years, in some cases.
Proof of residency in a homeless shelter for 15 days also can be a form of identification.
The New York Police Department accepts the municipal cards as a means of identification. They also can be used to enter public schools and libraries, and to get free admission to the city’s zoos and museums.
Roughly 1 million people have applied for the IDs. It’s unknown how many beneficiaries are immigrants living in the city illegally.
The law that created the program states that the city would keep records for two years of the documents applicants used to apply, and make them available only through a judicial subpoena.
Malliotakis said only seven cardholders have had their records requested through a subpoena.
The New York Times reported that 92 applications for IDs have been flagged as highly likely to be fraudulent, and the city has denied 7,130 applications because of insufficient proof of identity.
Castorina and Malliotakis say applicants’ records should be kept for the five years that an IDNYC card is valid, and that data should be made accessible under the state’s freedom of information law.
Lawyers for the city argue that law does not cover the release of private data, such as the personal information used to obtain one of the city ID cards.
Before pursuing the lawsuit, Castorina and Malliotakis filed a freedom of information request in November to get the records for all IDNYC beneficiaries. The city denied the request.
“We were not looking to engage in litigation,” Castorina told The Daily Signal.
Castorina says he supports the IDNYC program, and contends that it “fulfills a worthy purpose” by giving opportunities to vulnerable people, including illegal immigrants.
In the interview with The Daily Signal, he acknowledged, unprompted, that he backs providing a path to citizenship for immigrants now living in the country illegally.
Yet, through the litigation process, Castorina says, he has grown frustrated with New York City’s Democratic leaders, including de Blasio and Mark-Viverito. He accuses them of politicizing the municipal identification program and its clause allowing for destruction of data.
“To say this is the list that the federal government wants and will use to deport people is just complete political hyperbole,” Castorina told The Daily Signal, adding:
This is just politicizing the unfortunate situation of undocumented people, and it’s being done at their expense by instilling fear in their hearts and minds. And it’s also creating the prospect of a major security risk.