NEW YORK--Between the early morning hours and eleven at night, a line snakes across the fourth floor of the New York City Public Library’s 40th street branch in Manhattan. The line is diverse as a typical New York subway car.
It’s one of the many lines that leads New Yorkers towards their New York City municipal identification card, or idNYC. It’s a government-issued photo ID card available to all New York City residents over the age of 14, including undocumented immigrants, who in the past had no identification they could use to access services such as open a bank account, use a city library or use to pay utilities.
“The rollout was not the smoothest,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to NBC News. “For instance, the demand was so overwhelming at the beginning that we just did not have the infrastructure and capacity as a city to accommodate the needs.”
Some of the program’s growing pains included waiting up to six months to get an appointment at an ID center and dealing with long lines once there. But now, after making adjustments to the program idNYC is in the hands of over 100,000 New Yorkers.
“It’s a good challenge to have and it’s generating a real interest they’re having for this card,” said Mark-Viverito, the first Latina City Council Speaker.
idNYC has been this New York City Council’s project since 2014. And it’s been a project by advocates for much longer. The city council bill which set the initiative in motion was passed last June and signed by Mayor Bill De Blasio last July.
One of idNYC’s champions is Councilman Carlos Menchaca, head of the council’s immigration committee and a co-author of the idNYC bill. He credits a changing of the guard for the passage.
“There are a lot of voices like me now in the city council,” Menchaca, 34, said. “There’s a whole new city council. We have a lot of young, youthful people of color. We have a young, kind of progressive voice that is not shy about bringing those priorities together.”
It’s not the first time the New York City has tried to pass a bill that would create a municipal ID. But this session’s diverse new council has been heavily aligned with the mayor’s office, making progressive policies like this one possible.
“Having new faces at the table, especially with identity - is helping us talk about the issues in a way [where] we can bring our experiences, but also be able to bring those voices in our district who have not been at the table before,” said Menchaca, who is openly gay and the first Mexican American to be elected to the New York City Council.
The city's municipal ID card has more flexible parameters than New York state IDs. For instance, it allows applicants to express their gender preference. It’s also free and does not require applicants to reveal whether or not they are in the country legally.
“I guess I consider myself somewhere in the middle of those two,” said Daniel Zammata, an idNYC holder originally from Colombia, about how he would qualify his current legal status.
Zammata attended graduate school at Fordham University through a student visa. However, now that he has graduated and gotten married, he is awaiting a status change that would allow him to stay in the United States to continue to work. Until obtaining his municipal ID, Zammata flashed his identification from Colombia to make purchases and to get into bars or events, for example. He said that he occasionally encountered a confused face at the register, and that carrying his Colombian ID did not feel safe because it would be difficult to replace. Now, he uses idNYC without any issues.
The city expects about half a million immigrants will benefit from the card. idNYC allows New Yorkers to receive discounts in various places and free membership to cultural institutions.
Zammata said he was planning on using the card to register for his local YMCA.
“I need it, but I also want it,” he chuckled. “It’s cool!”