How can the NYC government improve the New York government

| "I'm New York" New York City municipal identity card record

"I'm New York." The sentence is in every imaginable language on the posters that are currently hanging all over New York: in schools, at bus stops, in cafes, neighborhood shops and libraries. The many different faces laughing from the posters are a bit reminiscent of Benetton's multicultural advertising. At the bottom it says in bright orange: "Get your city ID today!"

The introduction of the New York City ID, or IDNYC for short, is perhaps one of the greatest successes of the new Mayor Bill de Blasio (see Mogilyanskaya 2014). In November 2013, the leftist Democrat was elected to succeed multimillionaire Michael Bloomberg with a majority of 73 percent. This ended two decades of conservative law-and-order policy. Like hardly any other reform, the city card stands for the political change of course under de Blasio and for successful cooperation between the new government and the social movements.

City citizenship in New York City

The idea is simple. Anyone who can prove their identity and a place of residence in the city receives an official ID: the IDNYC. This is recognized not only by administrations, schools and other public institutions, but also by many private companies and the police.

The special meaning of the little green card only becomes clear at second glance. Because, unlike in European countries, there is no nationwide valid ID document like the ID card in the USA. Many citizens also do not have a passport. Instead, the most common form of identification is the official driver's license. In addition, credit cards and company IDs are often used.

This is a problem, especially for migrants and marginalized groups such as the homeless, but also for many others in the city. Not to mention the 500,000 or so sans papiers who live in New York City without official status. Without ID, everyday life becomes an unpredictable challenge. An identification document is required to conclude a rental agreement, to attend school for the children or to become a member of the district library. And since you can't open a bank account without an ID, the poorest of the poor of all people often have to pay horrific fees for financial service providers like Western Union. Not to mention the risks that a police ID check can bring with it.

This is where the IDNYC comes into play. After San Francisco and New Haven, New York City is the third city in the United States to introduce such a municipal identification document. Anyone residing in New York can apply for the ID. It is issued by the city administration. The immigration status is irrelevant and is not noted on the ID. Homeless people can give an aid organization as their address. And whoever has the ID is considered a city citizen of New York.

Participation and recognition in the city

Local politics of citizenship have been discussed in urban and migration research since the 1990s under the term “Urban Citizenship” (cf. Hess / Lebuhn 2014). The approach is particularly prominent in the Anglo-American region, but is also increasingly appearing in the German-speaking debate, where it often forms a counter-term to the repressive integration disposition. Urban researcher Marisol García speaks of urban or regional forms of citizenship when local political instruments are introduced that not only guarantee or expand social participation for established citizens, but also integrate residents who do not have formal citizenship status.

Not citizenship, but the material center of life is the criterion for access to social resources. All people who live together in a certain place and participate in everyday life there should also have the same rights and obligations. The politics of (urban) citizenship can be based on protests and demands ›from below‹ as well as on innovative practices in politics and administration - or on a combination of both (cf. García 2006, 754).

How far such local political strategies go depends on the respective political system. In states with a pronounced federalism, such as the USA, the states and municipalities enjoy a relatively high degree of autonomy from the federal government. In many respects, local politics has greater leeway than in states in which the municipalities merely function as a kind of “extended arm of the central state”. This does not mean, however, that local politics must necessarily be more progressive than politics at the federal level. In the USA in particular there are many examples of local politics of the most reactionary kind - it always depends on the political balance of power on the ground.
In New York City, the new card would hardly have been introduced without the energetic support of Mayor de Blasio. But above all, it is the result of a successful campaign by left movements. One of the largest neighborhood organizations in New York was in the lead: "Make the Road". The organization was founded in 2007 as an amalgamation of several smaller groups and fights for the rights of migrants. It now has nearly 20,000 members across the city.

"We had been thinking about an ID for a long time," says Natalia Aristizabal. But it was only with de Blasio as mayor and a number of left-wing MPs in the City Council that the opportunity seemed to have come. Natalia has been working for "Make the Road" for twelve years. She immigrated to the USA from Colombia with her mother and knows the racist everyday life in New York from her own experience. First, the activists sought legal advice. “Then we started talking to people about it. We thought about how to make the ID attractive for all New Yorkers. Because we didn't want an ID just for immigrants. That would have been like a stigma. "

When "Make the Road" contacted the district deputies and mayor de Blasio in a city-political alliance with numerous other groups, the concept was in place. The ID should not only work as an ID. It should also include discounted access to museums and other cultural institutions and allow discounted membership in sports clubs. The libraries had already expressed their interest in accepting the ID as a membership card in advance. The police should also definitely be involved. The more partners, the better.

Shift the balance of power

Groups like Make the Road are professional neighborhood organizations with thousands of members. They have offices throughout the city with fixed opening times, offer legal advice and organize grassroots campaigns. And they do party politics. Along with other left groups and a number of unions, such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), Make the Road is a member of the Working Families Party. The party was founded in New York in 1998. Today it is active in eleven states. With an unusual concept, she tries to shift the political balance of power (see Jaffe, December 2015 on LuXemburg-Online).

"The Working Families Party has no candidates of its own," says Juan Antigua. The young Bronx man is the party's political director in New York City. "We always support those politicians who represent a progressive agenda and stand up for our goals and values," he explains the strategy. In the US electoral system, in which there is often head-to-head races, the Working Families Party can provide its favorites with important percentage points. It mobilizes among the members of its partner institutions and takes part in the election campaign. Conversely, the candidates know that they have to do something to support them. The party is often criticized for its pragmatism, mostly because it occasionally supports Republicans. But in New York City, in the last election, it helped to shift the majority to the left. Five percent of the voters who voted for de Blasio were theirs. The party also got involved in the election of MPs for the City Council and supported the Progressive Caucus, a kind of left-wing parliamentary group. “We worked closely with them so that projects like the new city card could be developed and implemented,” says Juan Antigua. It worked out. In June 2014, three MPs introduced the bill for the new ID card to the City Council.

900,000 New Yorkers are already taking part

In the summer of 2016, the city government evaluated the ID for the first time. The almost 70-page study was carried out by external experts from the research and consulting institute Metis Associates and can be downloaded from the website of the mayor's migration officer (see Daley 2016). In addition to an online survey and the evaluation of anonymised administrative data, qualitative individual and group interviews were also conducted, including with representatives of neighborhood organizations.

The results are amazing. In the summer of 2016, almost 900,000 New Yorkers used the ID. That is around ten percent of all residents. At the time, the card had only been around for a year and a half. Over 70 percent of the passport holders surveyed stated that they had applied for the ID simply to support the idea. The one-page application form can be filled out and submitted directly in over 20 enrollment centers that have been specially set up throughout the city. Many of these are in libraries and neighborhood centers. The identity and the place of residence are proven with different documents, which are evaluated according to a point system. If you don't have a rental agreement, you can also submit a combination of electricity, water and telephone bills, for example. The passport photo is taken when the application is submitted. The fact that the data is stored by the administration for two years was a bitter pill for the social movements - even if the police do not have access to it.

The police seem to accept the ID unconditionally. It was very important to her that the proof of identity was handled strictly when submitting the application. In return, the guidelines for police checks have been changed so that the ID really has an official character. This is particularly important for the precarious group of the Sans Papiers. But other groups also appreciate the ID very much. He is particularly popular in the LGBTQ community. In contrast to normal ID cards, you can choose the gender designation yourself. When submitting the application, you decide for yourself whether you deviate from the gender on the birth certificate. In addition to male and female, there is the option of dispensing with a gender designation altogether. The card is also popular among students. Because it grants reduced or free entry to 40 cultural institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art or the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
There is certainly still a lot to improve. Homeless people report that they continue to be harassed by the police if the name of an aid organization is noted on the ID card as the c / o address. And many banks refuse to accept the IDNYC as the sole identification document for opening an account. Pubs and clubs do not yet accept the ID for proof of age. This is because the responsible authority at the level of the state of New York must first give the green light.

Nonetheless, the project seems to be a success. For 25 percent of all respondents, the IDNYC is the only official identification document. For this group, the ID card has a benefit that should hardly be underestimated. This in turn also translates to the symbolic level. 77 percent of the migrants who were questioned for the study stated that their feeling of belonging to the city had also changed with the new ID: They are now »real New Yorkers«! The city government is aware that social movements played an important role in the introduction of the IDNYC. The mayor's migration officer, Nisha Agarwal, appreciates the expertise of the local neighborhood organizations. Because the groups have direct contact with their respective communities. "The neighborhood organizations are important partners for us in implementing the IDNYC," says Nisha Agarwal. “They are promoting the new ID among their members. Many have set up places where you can apply for the ID. They also advise us on how we can further expand the partner program in order to make the ID card attractive for all New Yorkers. "

Or is it just a small step?

Despite all the successes, the city ID card is only a small step in the right direction. For one, it is only valid in New York City. On the other hand, there is little he can do about the enormous social polarization in the city. The ID card alone does not give you access to welfare state benefits. To do this, other documents such as the social security card must also be presented. But that is hardly possible for the sans papiers in particular. And when it comes to 'real redistribution policy', for example in housing construction and education policy, the new city government quickly encounters powerful opponents. These sit not only in Wall Street, but also at the political levers in New York State. With Andrew Cuomo there is also a Democrat. But this is not as far to the left as de Blasio. And on many issues, even the powerful mayor of New York cannot do anything without the approval of the state. It looks even grimmer in Washington. A comprehensive reform of migration policy is only feasible at the federal level. Barack Obama had already failed there in an attempt to legalize the nearly twelve million Sans Papiers. With Donald Trump's election victory, a dramatic deterioration can be expected here.

In the foreseeable future, the change of course in New York is likely to remain limited to the local level. Nevertheless: The introduction of the IDNYC is of great importance, especially for the most marginalized in the city. It is an important achievement for the social movements. In addition, the card also serves as a role model for other cities in the USA. After New York City, the city of Phoenix introduced a municipal ID in the summer of 2016 - and thus turned against conservative politics at the level of the state of Arizona. Who knows: maybe many small steps will eventually become a big one.

This article first appeared in a shorter version in the weekly time


Daley, Tamara C. et al., 2016: IDNYC: A Tool of Empowerment. A Mixed-Methods Evaluation of the New York Municipal ID Program, New York City,
García, Marisol, 2006: Citizenship Practices and Urban Governance in European Cities, in: Urban Studies 4/2006, 745–765
Hess, Sabine / Lebuhn, Henrik, 2014: Politiken der Bürgerschaft. Migration, City, Citizenship, in: sub / urban. Journal for Critical Urban Research 3/2014, 11–34
Mogilyanskaya, Alina, 2014: Get your ID! New York City introduces a municipal identity document in:
LuXemburg 3/2014, 142–145