NEW YORK - (AP) -- New York City is poised to approve the creation of municipal identification cards that would allow immigrants living in the country illegally to access key city services they were previously unable to obtain.
The City Council will vote Thursday to create the New York City Identity Card, Democratic Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito told the Associated Press on Monday. The card will be available to New Yorkers who can prove their identity and residence in the city's five boroughs.
The program, long a favorite in the nation's liberal circles, is aimed at providing documentation for the estimated 500,000 immigrants living illegally in the nation's largest city. With the card, many of these immigrants will be able to show a form of government identification required to do things such as open a bank account, see a doctor, cash a check or sign a lease.
Advocates also believe that possession of the card may make the homeless and immigrants otherwise without such documentation feel more comfortable seeking help from law enforcement and participating in other aspects of civic life.
"This municipal ID card will provide a safe and secure identification to all New Yorkers, many of whom have never had them before," Mark-Viverito said. "For too long, many New Yorkers lacked ID for a variety of reasons, but this smart, humane legislation will begin to change that and help many New Yorkers gain access to important city services that were previously out of reach."
Critics of the card say they believe it will permit benefits, which in some cases cost government funds, to people who should not be living in the United States.
The speaker briefed the council's Democratic conference about the measure late Monday. Her spokesman said the measure is expected to pass the 51-member council, which has 48 Democrats and three Republicans. The law would go into effect by year's end.
The legislation will put New York on a growing list of cities that have approved municipal ID cards, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Haven, Connecticut. It also fulfills a campaign pledge of Democratic Mayor Bill de Blaiso, who took office in January.
"To all of my fellow New Yorkers who are undocumented, I say: New York City is your home, too," de Blasio said in his inaugural State of the City address in February, "and we will not force any of our residents to live their lives in the shadows."
The mayor, a longtime ally of Mark-Viverito, set aside more than $8 million in his executive budget for the creation of the program.
The card will also offer yet-to-be-determined incentives to encourage immigrants who have legal residency status to obtain them, Mark-Viverito's spokesman said. Advocates say they believe benefits, such as perhaps restaurant or museum discounts, will popularize the ID card and prevent a stigma from emerging around it.