In January, New York City unveiled its IDNYC program, which provides new ID cards to residents of the five boroughs regardless of immigration status. The program earned praise from a number of advocacy groups, as it allows undocumented immigrants to join other New York residents in obtaining recognized identification and access to city services.
In light of the program’s success, immigration experts and members of the undocumented community living outside the city, find themselves asking how and when a similar program might be implemented in Long Island’s own towns and neighborhoods.
“I think it [IDNYC] is a huge step forward in New York City. It will mean the difference for tens if not hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who as of now haven’t been able to get identification,” said Daniel Altschuler, coordinator at Make the Road NY, a grassroots advocacy organization with deep roots in Long Island’s undocumented community.
“In terms of Long Island, this type of thing would be great. It would be great for the approximately 100,000 undocumented immigrants… and other populations that are benefiting in New York City,” said Altschuler.
In the years leading to the implementation of the IDNYC program, many advocacy groups have been working to influence change and bring the struggles and interests of undocumented immigrants to light.
Daniel Coates, lead community organizer for Make the Road NY, said that the timing and combined work of these group coalitions proved to be instrumental to the success of the new ID program.
So what would it take for a program like IDNYC to get the green light on Long Island?
Coates said that, in the absence of Congress passing comprehensive immigration reform, it is up to municipalities to “step up” and develop their own solutions to help immigrants who live in their communities. “The idea that municipalities can step in and sort of create ways to integrate different communities is a really powerful [approach],” he said.
While IDNYC is showing signs of its success, implementing a similar program on Long Island wouldn’t come without its own set of challenges and obstacles, according to Lucas Sanchez, a representative of New York Communities for Change, a membership organization representing more than 45,000 low and moderate income families in New York.
Despite possible setbacks that Sanchez claims may be rooted in anti-immigrant sentiment, the chance for a municipal ID program on Long Island is still very possible.
“I think the potential is there because we have the proof that it’s possible with what happened in the city,” said Sanchez.
He added that there has always been a push nationally for undocumented immigrants to have access to recognized forms of identification like driver’s licenses. And with the passing of the IDNYC program, Sanchez hopes that state-issued driver’s licenses can one day become a reality.
For the large number of immigrants living on Long Island, the IDNYC program and the benefits it carries for New York City’s undocumented residents is a bittersweet reality.
Residents like Consepcion Sáenz, 41, said that a program like the one being implemented in Manhattan would prove incredibly beneficial for Long Island’s undocumented communities, of which he is a part of. But the real benefit would come from more than just an ID.
“The idea with IDs can be good, it can be nice, but the best thing to do in New York and on Long Island is to get a [driver’s] license,” said Sáenz. “The license would be much better and would create more income for New York because insurance, registration, and everything like that would be better for the person, for the state and everybody is going to be better that way.”
Given its conservative environment, Long Island may be farther off from enjoying such a thing, but Sáenz remains positive and hopeful for the future.
“Long Island has a lot of undocumented immigrants and they will be very happy if [the ID program] comes true to Long Island,” said Sáenz.