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Next stop for asylum seekers newly arrived in New York: Get IDNYC card

At one Bronx library, dozens daily are applying for city-issued identification cards in order to work locally after crossing the U.S. border 2,000 miles away.

August 9, 2022 Gabriel Poblete, THE CITY
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On Friday afternoon, the Bronx Library Center on Kingsbridge Road was mostly empty — except for people streaming into the building and up to the fifth floor.

There, two dozen or so people waited in a narrow hallway for hours in hopes of getting an IDNYC card, many if not all of them recent arrivals in New York City who are seeking asylum after crossing the southern U.S. border.

Created by former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2015, IDNYC allows all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, to obtain an identification card.

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Cristian arrived in New York a little over a week ago after a journey from Colombia that included being detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol for over a month at the Texas/Mexico line. Waiting with his partner, Diana, and her 16-year-old son, Cristian is trying to overcome his latest obstacle: not being able to cash his paycheck from his construction job.

He currently doesn’t have proper identification — having turned in his passport to customs when he entered through Texas — so the municipal ID would offer a way for him to collect his pay.

“The ID is to get around here,” Diana said in Spanish. “We currently have to show our immigration papers wherever we go. It’s hard to get around carrying so much stuff.”

In recent weeks, asylum seekers have been caught in a political battle between the governors of southern border states who have been chartering buses of migrants to the East Coast, and the mayors of their destinations, Muriel Bowser in Washington and Eric Adams in New York.

On Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the first chartered bus of migrants from Texas to New York was arriving the very same day.

“NYC is the ideal destination for these migrants,” Abbott tweeted. “They can receive the services Mayor Adams has boasted about w/in the sanctuary city.” Adams had first accused him of busing migrants to NYC weeks ago.

Mayor Eric Adams waits to greet asylum seekers arriving at Port Authority Bus Terminal, Aug. 7, 2022.
Photo: Diane Bondareff/Mayoral Photo Office

Meanwhile, Adams said that the asylum seekers entering the city are welcome — while also maintaining that their entry into the city’s shelter system has pushed them to the brink and calling on the federal government to provide more resources. New York has a right to shelter mandate that ensures a bed for everyone who needs one.

“I think that Gov. Abbott, what he’s doing is just so inhumane, and we were happy to have a mayor who greeted the asylum seekers instead of putting them on a bus for the 44-hour ride, very few breaks, no food, no direction and clear information,” Adams said Monday at an unrelated press conference in Queens.

“And so our goal is every asylum seeker that comes to New York, we’re going to give them shelter and support that they need.”

While Adams’ claim that the migrants are straining the shelter system has come under fire by advocates for the homeless who say he’s dodging responsibility for a broader homelessness crisis, it remains clear that the city is seeing an influx of asylum seekers who are turning to city services. Managed by the Department of Social Services, IDNYC is another resource for the recently arrived migrants to navigate their new lives in New York.

Another crucial resource for asylum seekers 

IDNYC has made it easier for undocumented New Yorkers to enroll in banking, to apply for city services, and to supply proof of identity to enter buildings such as schools.

The number of enrollments in the first half of calendar year 2022 equaled around 85% of the enrollments for all of 2021, DSS said in a statement to THE CITY. A spokesperson also touted the Adams administration’s push to get more New Yorkers signed up, bringing more enrollment sites online.

“The IDNYC program has provided more than 1.4 million New Yorkers with proof of identification, which is vital for vulnerable New Yorkers looking to access the city resources and support to which they are entitled,” the spokesperson said. “We are proud of the progress we have made with new enrollments, and we remain squarely focused on continuing to assist any vulnerable communities regardless of immigration status seeking to access the IDNYC program.”

The numbers from DSS seem to reflect surges experienced on the ground. A Bronx Library Center staffer said the volume of visitors started increasing significantly around May or June, with about 50 applicants a day now showing up.

DSS provides ID cards on a points-based system, with four points required to get one. Foreign passports (three points) and consular ID cards (two points) both count toward the tally, but Customs and Border Patrol often confiscates these documents. Other documents that asylum seekers may use are the I-94 form, issued by the Department of Homeland Security when crossing the border, and a letter from a city homeless shelter where they are staying.

Diana and her son arrived a month before Cristian, and the city’s Department of Homeless Services provided them shelter in Manhattan. However, when Cristian arrived, they were moved to a shelter in Brooklyn. Diana, who had applied for the ID with the address of the former shelter, never received her card as she and her family relocated, and she will now have to sign up again to get an ID.

“There’s a lot of help, but for being an immigrant, everything is complicated,” Cristian said.

Yendry Buroz has been in the country for over a month after leaving his native Venezuela and crossing the deadly Darien Gap and the Rio Grande. Now he’s running into another issue of trying to land work. While CBP seized his Venezuelan identification card at the border, he was able to get a new one with the help of a relative.

But that hasn’t been of much help to him. So, he’s hoping the city ID will help him obtain work.

“Right now, I’m unemployed, and I’ve looked for work throughout the week, and they’ve told me they’ll call me,” he said in Spanish. “They tell me I need my social [security number] or an ID.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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