A program that will allow undocumented immigrants, the homeless, former convicts, and other vulnerable populations to obtain free municipal identification cards passed through the city council on Wednesday night.
“This will help a lot of undocumented immigrants,” said Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, as he and five of his colleagues voted to approve the controversial program which was proposed by mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration and delayed for three months.
Health department director Donna Nelson-Ivy said she expects to issue 500 identification cards this year with a $7,080 start-up cost. The cost does not include marketing or staff, but only material and equipment.
Nelson-Ivy said staff at the department’s Health Division will issue the identification cards.
“Where did you get the 500?” asked Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. Nelson-Ivy at first suggested she conducted research to obtain the number, but then conceded it was the number of identification cards she intends to issue.
You are “grossly” under estimating the need, Morris told her. “It’s just poor planning.”
Newark, which began its ID program in August of 2015, has issued 7,000 cards, said Johanna Calle, program coordinator for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, whose testimony proved successful in the program’s passage.
For a city of 146,000 the number seemed suspect to council members. Mendez said thousands of people will likely line up at the health department to obtain identification cards.
Newark is twice the size of Paterson in terms of population suggesting Nelson-Ivy’s estimate may be little more than a guess.
Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, said there’s a great need for the program in her ward which contains a large homeless population as well as those returning home after serving time behind bars.
Morris and Mendez worried a high demand for the program will result in taxpayers being hit with a large bill.
“This cannot be free,” said Mendez. He said the city should charge $15 to $20 for the identification cards just as other cities with similar programs have been doing.
Calle said Newark charges $15 for an ID card.
Morris asked the amount of money Newark set aside for the program, Calle said the Essex County municipality spent more than $100,000 to start up its program. She noted through the per ID card fee Newark has recouped its initial investment.
Nelson-Ivy said the mayor does not want to charge for the identification card, but she did not rule out potentially adding a fee in the future.
“How do you prevent forgeries?” asked Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman. Calle said cities usually have their own six-point identification system that allows an individual to present foreign documents.
She said some cities that have an ID program have worked with foreign embassies to validate consular identification cards, passports, and birth certificates from other nations. She said other cities also provide discounts at local restaurants and businesses through the cards to encourage adoption.
Calle also said the cards will allow undocumented immigrants to open bank accounts. Both TD Bank and Wells Fargo have said neither accept municipal identification cards as a primary form of ID to open bank accounts.
Federal regulation requires banks to collect social security numbers when someone opens an account, noted both banks.
“You can open up a bank account if the bank decides to accept it,” said Calle.
Calle said in Newark some local banks have partnered with the city to allow residents to open bank accounts.