This Op-Ed by Nicole Malliotakis originally appeared in City & State
Protecting IDNYC records is about safety and transparency – not immigration
As the NFL playoffs approach, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have found their political football. Since Donald Trump’s election, they’ve seen an opportunity to rally their base by amplifying rhetoric that city records must be destroyed to protect illegal immigrants from deportation by the incoming Trump administration.
Our opposition to destroying documents associated with New York City’s municipal ID card program, IDNYC, has nothing to do with the federal government, immigration reform or Trump. Over the past few election cycles, from statewide races to local campaigns, a common theme has involved pledges to restore the people’s trust in government, and a part of that trust involves assurances that government officials are acting with integrity and doing all that can be done to promote the general welfare of the people.
While they stoke fears among our city’s undocumented population, our city leaders disregard the concerns of millions of other New Yorkers who value government transparency and public safety.
Two days after the beginning of our actions to preserve the records, the mayor’s office announced it would no longer retain any records at the start of the new year – a portent of its plan to destroy the existing records. New York City has issued roughly 988,000 IDNYC cards to date and we now stand to lose all the information about who received them and how they obtained the cards.
Section 89 of the New York Freedom of Information Law states, “Any person who, with intent to prevent public inspection of a record pursuant to this article, willfully conceals or destroys any such record shall be guilty of a violation.” The city’s actions are a clear affront to state law and the cherished value of transparency in government.
When the ID card program was introduced in 2015, one of its architects stated that the document-destruction cause was included in the enacting legislation, “in case a Tea Party Republican comes into office and says, ‘We want all of the data from all of the municipal ID programs in the country.’”
While we both had misgivings about the IDNYC program and its perceived necessity, this clause and its supposed justification undoubtedly fly in the face of honest government.
Many IDNYC proponents responded to public safety concerns with arguments that the cards would increase security and aid law enforcement by identifying undocumented individuals living within New York City. According to the city, more than half of cardholders use the ID as their primary form of identification.
The purging of these government records would more than compromise any perceived benefit to law enforcement by creating a situation where, should someone use the program to create a fake identity for malicious purposes, the city would be left without the means to learn how he or she created it.
According to the 9/11 Commission, all but one of the hijackers had obtained some form of government-issued documentation, mostly by fraudulent means. In its report, the commission urged the federal government and municipalities to provide heavier scrutiny when issuing identification.
IDNYC application documents could provide additional information of value to a law enforcement investigation. The records themselves carry their own inherent value. In fact, there have already been judicial requests for information on seven cardholders, which the city released. How will they fulfill these requests in the future if the documents are destroyed?
We firmly believe that government’s first priority is to keep its citizens safe and we cannot overlook threats to public safety within our city and state. As threats endure, it is critical that we heed caution and remain vigilant.
The interests of justice cannot afford to be clouded by shiny political arguments. Repeated references to undocumented residents and federal authorities by the mayor and City Council speaker serve nothing more than to interfere with an issue of extreme importance to all New Yorkers.