NEW YORK—This year was full of significant developments for illegal immigrants, the most notable being President Barack Obama’s executive action that will allow 5 million unauthorized immigrants to get work permits and relief from deportation.
In New York City, the momentum for legislative reforms and relief will extend into the new year, cementing the city’s reputation for opening its doors to immigrants no matter how they came here.
Citywide ID Program
The new year begins with the launching of the city’s municipal ID program. Available to all city residents 14 and older—regardless of immigration status—the ID card comes with a number of perks.
For immigrants who lack government-authorized identification, the card will now allow them to open bank accounts, enter city government buildings, and access city-administered services. As an additional perk, the ID card will also come with a one-year free membership pass to 33 cultural institutions in the city—including the Bronx Zoo, Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The city agency, Human Resources Administration, will set up 12 permanent enrollment centers where people can get assistance filling out and submitting their applications.
The city has a game plan for getting as many people signed up as possible. Beginning Jan. 12, the city will launch a mass marketing campaign. With a newly hired campaign director and staff, the city is also partnering with community leaders, immigrant advocacy groups, and ethnic media to get the word out.
Obama’s Relief Programs
In November, the president announced that since Congress failed to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, he will establish new measures to allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work in the formal economy. Certain immigrants, who completed their high school education in the United States and entered the country before they turned 16, as well as parents of permanent legal residents and citizens, can apply for temporary reprieve beginning in February and May 2015, respectively.
In New York state, an estimated 338,000 people are eligible for the executive action programs, according to estimates by the nonpartisan think tank, Migration Policy Institute. In New York City alone, about 114,000 to 121,000 may be eligible, according to commissioner to the mayor’s office of immigrant affairs, Nisha Agarwal.
To make sure they take advantage of the federal programs, a team of legal organizations, advocacy groups, and the state Office for New Americans have joined hands to reach as many eligible immigrants as possible and assist them with the application process. The team, called the New York Immigrant Assistance Consortium, won’t be limiting its outreach to just the five boroughs—it has taken note of the growing immigrant population on Long Island and in Westchester County.
Changes in Law Enforcement
Obama’s executive action also includes a change in the way local police process illegal immigrants. Previously, anyone who got arrested and booked at a police station would have his or her information shared with the Department of Homeland Security. Local police would then detain immigrants who lack legal status, until Customs authorities come to deport them.
Under Obama’s new prosecutorial guidelines, only immigrants who have committed serious misdemeanors and felonies would be referred to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office.
This builds on a piece of local legislation passed by the City Council in October, which prohibits ICE authorities from arresting and detaining immigrants in New York City without a federal judge’s warrant.
But local advocacy groups aren’t resting. For the upcoming year, the New York Immigration Coalition, an umbrella organization of about 200 groups, will push for passage of the New York DREAM Act, which allows young immigrants without legal status to receive state financial aid when applying to college.
The bill failed to pass in the state Senate in March. Now, the coalition is calling on legislators to pass it ahead of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address in January.