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NYC issues IDs to immigrants as Congress gives up

Leo, a undocumented minor from Guatemala, who takes English classes and gets legal guidance at Atlas: DIY, a center for immigrant youths.
Leo, a undocumented minor from Guatemala at Atlas: DIY, a center for immigrant youths in New York, June 12, 2014.

Congress is done discussing immigration reform, but cities and states are still looking for ways to manage their own undocumented immigrant populations.

New York City will soon issue municipal ID cards that residents can apply for regardless of their immigration status. The new identification will only be valid within the city, but allow undocumented residents to apply for leases, bank accounts and local services like public library cards.

“The idea is to make sure that people fully integrate into our city and avail themselves of the services that are available,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who oversaw the law’s passage last week, told msnbc in an interview. 

New York is the largest city so far to institute the new ID policy, following the lead of places like Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Eleven states and the District of Columbia issue drivers licenses without regard to immigration status. 

Almost every state also issues licenses to young undocumented immigrants who qualify for temporary protection from deportation under the White House’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. This week, a federal court ordered Arizona, one of two holdouts, to issue licenses to DACA recipients as well.

New York is also one of a growing number of municipalities and states that bar local police from passing on their information to federal immigration authorities or detaining them unless they’re accused of a serious crime. Los Angeles also recently announced its police would no longer accede to federal demands to hold suspected undocumented immigrants without a warrant.

Other places like Alabama and Arizona have gone the opposite route in ordering police to aggressively seek out undocumented immigrants, but those laws have been stymied by public backlash and pared back significantly by judges. 

None of these measures to either welcome or repel immigrants are a substitute for a coherent federal policy, however. Only Congress has the power to grant full legal status to undocumented immigrants or, alternately, to empower states to enforce immigration law on the federal government’s behalf. But the longer Washington takes to retool the system, the more state and local officials are going to look for band-aid solutions of their own.