Republican Lawsuit Forces NYC’s Hand on Identifications for Undocumented Immigrants

Mayor Bill de Blasio at a municipal identification card hearing.

Mayor Bill de Blasio at a municipal identification card hearing. William Alatriste/NYC Council

Staten Island Republicans convinced a state Apellate Division court to uphold an an injunction against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to dump the personal files of applicants to the city’s municipal identification program, files believed to include the personal information of thousands of undocumented immigrants—prompting the administration to announce it would no longer hold on to any personal records of IDNYC participants at all.

Earlier this week, Assemblyman Ron Castorina and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis convinced Richmond County Supreme Court Justice Philip Minardo to order the city not follow through with longstanding plans to purge the files of municipal I.D. initiative pending proceedings that could last into next year. Castorina and his attorney, Jeffrey Alfano, convinced an Appellate Division clerk and justice to leave that order in place—despite arguments from city Assistant Corporation Counsel Richard Dearing that such purges are “appropriate and lawful” for numerous agencies.

In response the city, which created IDNYC in part to provide proofs of identification to the undocumented, declared it would restructure the program to avoid keeping any personal information submitted in applications—like copies of passports, bills and other compromising documents—on file.

“The IDNYC program will be transitioning to a policy that does not involve the retention of cardholders’ personal background documents,” said a joint statement from Rosemary Boeglin, a spokeswoman for the mayor, and Robin Levine, spokeswoman for Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

The pair encouraged those interested to continue applying for the cards, and said the switch to the new system would be complete by January. Dearing revealed in today’s appellate proceedings that, so far, the city has stored scanned images of application documents electronically.

Civil liberties advocates feared that an I.D. card program open to those lacking other kinds of paperwork could, if seized by unsympathetic federal authorities, become a deportation database. For that reason, the legislation that created IDNYC included a trap door that allowed the city to wipe the records at the end of this year.

During arguments before the Appellate Division clerk, Castorina argued that his sole concern was that criminals or terrorists might use the cards to open bank accounts for illicit purposes—and that authorities would find themselves unable to track the malefactors if the city flushed its digital documentation. He dismissed the idea of imminent mass deportations, even under President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration.

“That is political hyperbole,” Castorina, a Trump supporter, said.

The basis of the Republican suit was a Freedom of Information Law request the two Assembly members filed at the end of last month, seeking all documentation affiliated with the program. The statute forbids governments from destroying records sought through FOIL.

Dearing accused Malliotakis and Castorina of deliberately sending that request in at “the 11th hour,” after IDNYC had been in existence almost two and a half years.

“This was a political proceeding that was engineered for one reason. And that is to frustrate the timeline that was enacted by the City Council,” Dearing said.

The appellate court did accede to the city’s request to move the date of the proceedings up to December 21, though hearings may not end until next year. Castorina told the Observer he was “confident” of future success.

“This is not the People’s Republic of New York. This is a democratic society we live in,” he said. “We’ve won today, and I believe we will continue to win in the future.”

Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.

Republican Lawsuit Forces NYC’s Hand on Identifications for Undocumented Immigrants