In unanimous vote, Newark council OKs immigrant ID program

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on May 21, 2015

NEWARK — The Municipal Council on Wednesday unanimously approved the creation of a municipal ID program for unauthorized immigrants and other Newark residents.

The 8-0 vote was greeted by a standing ovation from many of those in attendance at the meeting, many of whom had addressed the council to express their support for the measure.

Among them was Anatole Toukam, the president of the city-based Cameroonian Friend Association, who expressed his belief that it would lend many in his community a sense of both safety and belonging.

"It's not just to have ID, it's also for people to feel pride," he said. "This is a country of opportunities...this is a country where people need to feel secure."

Introduced by Mayor Ras Baraka in January, the program give unauthorized immigrants an identification card that could give them access to city services and the ability to hold a bank account.

Officials have said the program is also intended to help the homeless, seniors, recently incarcerated, and anyone else who might face obstacles toward obtaining a driver's license or other government-issued ID. The city card would also allow them access to local libraries and museums that currently require identification to enter.

"The municipal ID card does not apply only to illegal immigrants. It is for all the residents of the city of Newark," East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador said.

To obtain the card, residents would need to be at least 14 years old and show other forms of identification and residency which could include a utility bill, a visa card, a payment stub or a passport among other options.

The program would also help Newark entrepreneurs who want to obtain a license to sell goods on street corners but don't want to present proof of citizenship, according to officials. In a statement, Mayor Ras Baraka said the program would "extend democracy to hundreds of residents" and help them make positive contributions to all areas of the community.

"This municipal ID bill says that our door is open in the great city of Newark," he said.

Councilman Carlos Gonzalez said he would be one of the first to get the ID card when the program officially launches, and promised that no one looking to obtain one would be asked about their status in the country.

"The ID makes you a Newark citizen," he said.

The ordinance approved by the council notes that a similar ID card program introduced in New Haven, Conn. resulted in a significant reduction in robberies and armed robberies against unauthorized immigrants, who without bank accounts, might easily be assumed to be carrying large sums of cash.

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio also introduced a similar program, dubbed IDNYC, earlier this year.

No exact date has been provided for when the IDs will start being issued, though Baraka and other officials have said they would like to have it up and running by July.

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