New Brunswick to offer municipal IDs to unauthorized immigrants, others

New Brunswick is the latest city in New Jersey to offer municipal identification cards to residents who want to use of city services, regardless of their immigration status.

Last week, Mayor James Cahill signed an ordinance creating the municipal ID program, which will be run by the city’s public library.

The Middlesex County city of 56,000 residents joins a number of other New Jersey municipalities, including  Newark and Paterson, which have offered municipal IDs to residents who may not have driver’s licenses but wish to access public benefits.

New York, San Francisco and other major U.S. cities also have municipal ID programs, largely in an attempt to help unauthorized immigrants access public services and benefits that were previously out of reach.

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Charles Bergman, director of the Esperanza Neighborhood Project in New Brunswick, said residents without traditional IDs often wonder whether they can access simple services that most people take for granted.

“Are we going to be able to visit our loved ones in the hospital because we don’t have an ID issued in the U.S.?” said Bergman. “Are we going to be able to go to the food pantry because we might not have any photo ID?”

Bergman said it was difficult to estimate how many New Brunswick residents are unauthorized immigrants but he noted that more than 35 percent of the city’s population was born outside the U.S.

Although New Brunswick has stopped short of declaring itself a “sanctuary city,” Cahill has said that city funds are not used to enforce federal immigration laws. In February, demonstrators demanded from the City Hall steps that New Brunswick be a “sanctuary” for unauthorized immigrants, following President Trump’s early executive orders on immigration.

The New Brunswick municipal ID will be available to anyone who can demonstrate that they live in the city.

The city library will create a point system for applicants to prove their residency, which means people will still have to show several forms of identification — such as a passport, a voter registration card, a utility bill, or immigration documents, among others — to get a municipal ID card.

Activists said that seniors, children, former inmates, the homeless, and other groups that can often run into trouble getting a driver’s license may also be interested in getting a municipal ID.

Bergman said he also hopes local businesses will offer discounts to municipal ID holders to encourage more residents — even those who already have driver’s licenses — to apply.

“We don’t want this to be a scarlet letter that, when you show it, people just assume that you’re an unauthorized immigrant living here without legal status,” he said.

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