As noted by the website New Immigrant in the City (which looks suspiciously official), the cards include discounts and freebies, like a “one-year free membership package at 33 of the City’s leading cultural institutions, including world class museums, performing arts centers, concert halls, botanical gardens, and zoos in all five boroughs.” There are also discounts on prescription drugs, movie tickets, supermarket purchases and more.
The program was designed for all New Yorkers, even American citizens, so the card would not be a “scarlet letter” identifying illegal alien moochers.
As a result of the free stuff made available to all of the eight million New York City residents, the program is more popular than the city pols imagined. Or perhaps there are more illegals than officially estimated.
More Popular Than Expected, New York’s ID Program Has Officials Scrambling, New York Times, February 6, 2015
First there were long lines and waits that lasted hours, followed by website glitches, protracted hold times on telephone information lines and extreme difficulty in arranging timely appointments.
The introduction of New York’s much-heralded municipal identification program, one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature initiatives, has been anything but smooth since it began on Jan. 12, with the surge in demand far surpassing the city’s estimates and overwhelming a system created to handle far fewer applicants.
Officials have scrambled to expand the program’s capacity and to accelerate the application process.
But after nearly four weeks, the city is still trying to catch up with the demand. As of Thursday, the earliest available appointment was on May 18, at a processing center in Manhattan. Appointments in Queens were booked until later in May, and on Staten Island until July. Residents of Brooklyn and the Bronx who sought appointments in those boroughs were out of luck: The calendars were completely full.
Critics have likened the program’s bumpy start to the fraught rollout of the health-insurance exchange website created under the Affordable Care Act, a comparison that city officials, including the mayor, have rebutted.
Still, the problems have frustrated many prospective applicants and even some of the city’s collaborators in the effort.
Yiyi Zhang, a lawyer with New Sanctuary Coalition NYC, a legal services and advocacy group, said that the long delays for appointments were “disappointing.” Members of her coalition, including undocumented immigrants, lobbied publicly for the identification program, but are now being forced to endure long waits to get their cards.
“After such a long struggle, it is heartbreaking,” she said.
The ID cards, which Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, made an early priority of his administration, are available to all residents who are at least 14 years old. But they are especially intended for those, such as undocumented immigrants and the homeless, who are unable to get another form of government identification. The cards have also been embraced by transgender people who can declare their preferred gender, or no gender at all, often for the first time on a government-issued ID.
The city originally designed a system that could accommodate about 300,000 applications a year. As of Thursday, though, more than 180,000 appointments had been booked and nearly 21,000 applications had been processed, putting New York’s program on the verge of surpassing San Francisco’s, which began in 2009 and is currently the largest in the country, officials said.
With such a large backlog of appointments, city officials said they had been urgently retooling the enrollment system since the program’s first week. They are now instituting a number of measures that will more than double the current enrollment capacity, including doubling the program’s staff and adding at least three large enrollment centers that will allow administrators to expedite about 42,000 appointments now scheduled for July through September.
In interviews this week, officials said their projections had been based in large part on the experiences of other cities with municipal ID programs, including San Francisco, Oakland and New Haven. In those cities, about 1 percent of the eligible population on average had turned out each year to apply for the cards, these officials said.
In planning the city’s program, New York officials also organized focus groups to gauge interest and conferred with various third parties, including business and religious leaders as well as advocacy groups for the homeless, immigrants and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.
While there was broad enthusiasm for the initiative, officials said, some immigrant advocates had warned that rules requiring the government to retain certain personal documents might dissuade immigrants without legal status from registering. That consideration, too, became part of their arithmetic.
After weighing these and other factors — including the estimated size of the undocumented immigrant population and the disproportionately large number of city residents without driver’s licenses — New York officials decided to err on the side of caution and build the system to handle an annual application flow equal to about 2.5 percent of the eligible population, which is how they arrived at the 300,000 figure.
But the 17 enrollment centers around the city processed a total of more than 1,000 applications on the first day alone and more than 800 on the second. In the meantime, anticipation among residents had begun to turn to griping, as wait times in some places lasted hours.
The city quickly took steps to “meet that demand with an equally ferocious response,” said Nisha Agarwal, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, which is helping to coordinate the program.
At the end of the second day, officials activated an online application system, which had been prepared in case of a spike in demand. But that, too, became overloaded and failed to work for several hours.
Social media crackled with complaints about the difficulty of getting an appointment and about the long hold times to speak with an operator at the city’s 311 service center, which was also helping to schedule appointments.
Alfonso Xicali, 38, a day laborer from Mexico, said he had stood in line at an enrollment center in the Bronx for at least two hours on each of the first two days that applications were being accepted, but was turned away both days because there were too many applicants. On the second day, he was redirected to the website and to 311 to schedule an appointment. When he called 311, he said, the operators told him they were not prepared to make appointments. As of Thursday, he had yet to find an available appointment online.
“I think they put too few centers for too many people,” he said. “Very frustrating.”