In 2015 New York City launched the IDNYC program, an initiative which aims to help marginalized communities like undocumented immigrants, transgender people and the homeless, all of whom may face difficulty in obtaining government identification. Cardholders are allowed to patronize libraries and other city buildings, open bank accounts and have discounted access to a number of institutions. However, the municipal government is also allowed to copy and store sensitive information from applicants, causing the New York Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups to express their opposition to the bill before it passed. What were just concerns have become real fears following Donald Trump’s victory, and the city must act before the program is used against its cardholders. A quick fix is utilizing a kill switch option, which can delete all the stored information on those enrolled.
In an interview just days after the election, Trump committed to deliver on his campaign promise of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants. This rhetoric is no doubt very alarming to any New Yorker whose immigration status may not meet the president-elect’s requirements. It is impossible to predict what resources a Trump administration may use to acquire data from regional governments on its citizens, and those who have enrolled in IDNYC are especially at risk. If a court orders it, which is entirely possible during the next presidency, the program must give up information. Mayor Bill de Blasio has emerged as a vocal opponent to Trump and his plans in recent weeks and suggested that the city would do what it could to protect its residents. He said that officials would explore a kill switch incorporated into IDNYC that could delete the database of cardholders.
Other cities have implemented similar ID programs. San Francisco’s retains no information on applicants, and when it was launched, advocacy groups applauded the municipality’s prudence in designing a program that could not be weaponized even if national policies changed. New York currently deletes data two years after an ID is issued, but for residents in danger of deportation from federal authorities, that can be a long time. By abolishing the database altogether, the city can maintain its commitment to all its residents and free itself from legal battles that would likely ensue under a Trump presidency.
NYU administrators have increased financial aid for undocumented students in recent years, and just this past week, the NYU community has made clear that the university is a sanctuary campus for undocumented students and other marginalized groups. These attitudes, along with a city that has welcomed immigrants for centuries, make NYU an attractive destination for undocumented and international students. A Trump administration, however, will damage the United States’s inviting reputation. It is up to local officials, including city governments, to preserve it, and reforming the IDNYC program to truly protect vulnerable residents is an essential first move.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, November 21st print edition. Email Akshay Prabhushankar at [email protected]