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New Brunswick Approves City ID Program to Applause from Residents

Residents and activists showed up to the New Brunswick City Council's June 7 meeting to support the budding municipal ID card program.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — The city expects 1,500 people to apply for municipal identification cards within the first six months of the program, which gained approval last week after roughly a year and a half in the making, according to officials.

The New Brunswick City Council adopted an ordinance establishing the city ID program on June 7, before a crowd of activists and immigrants. Many held signs in support of the initiative, some urged the council to green-light the ordinance and all applauded its approval.

“Most of us take for granted being able to identify ourselves, and we do not realize how often we are asked for picture ID,” said Bob Belvin, head of New Brunswick’s library, which will run the program. “But for seniors, domestic violence survivors, the homeless and young people, as well as the undocumented, having a convenient method of identification is vital.”

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The city’s fledgling municipal ID program is expected to launch, at the latest, by September, officials have said. It will make ID cards available to anyone living in New Brunswick, including homeless people and undocumented immigrants.

The ordinance requires all city agencies to accept the municipal ID cards as proof of an individual’s identity and residency, according to the document. That will help them access city services and benefits, the document states.

Only when a city agency suspects fraud or a legal violation may it deny a person’s ID card, according to the ordinance.

“The most important thing about a municipal identification card is that people have faith in it,” Belvin said, referencing both cardholders and those who accept it.

Activists and members of New Brunswick’s immigrant community—who began exploring the idea in January 2016—said the program will help people receive services from clinics, hospitals, banks and other institutions that sometimes don’t accept ID from their home countries.

“Sometimes, unfortunately even when they do accept it, perhaps people who are prejudiced see that and look down upon it,” a woman affiliated with the Esperanza Project and Unity Square said, speaking through a translator.

Walter Herres, an advocate for the city’s homeless, said the municipal ID program may offer the most marginalized residents a chance to access services, get shelter and ultimately “transcend homelessness.”

After the council adopted the ordinance, the standing-room-only crowd erupted in applause. A young boy shouted “thank you" to the governing body.

Photo courtesy of the Esperanza Neighborhood Project

In order to obtain a city ID card, applicants must submit any number of documents to prove both their identity and residency, according to the ordinance. The city’s library plans to implement a point system to score each document.

Acceptable documents include a range of ID cards issued by the U.S. and New Jersey. What’s more, a number of IDs or documents from foreign countries will also work, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance also provides a path for homeless people and victims of domestic violence who live in the city to obtain an ID card. An organization through which an applicant receives services must provide a letter showing that it has provided care to the person for at least 15 days, according to the ordinance.

Residents must be at least 14 years old to qualify or a municipal ID card, according to the document.

Each applicant’s personal information will be kept confidential, barring a court order, according to the ordinance. In the document, city officials stressed the need to “make best efforts to protect the confidentiality” of applicants.

Each New Brunswick ID card will be valid for two years and include the resident’s name, head shot, address and date of birth, along with issuance and expiration dates, according to the city.

In an effort to deter fraud, security measures, such as bar codes, serial numbers and watermarks, may appear on the cards, according to the ordinance.

A card will cost $20 for adults and $7 for kids, veterans, people with disabilities and senior citizens, according to the document.

Residents who meet at least one of several criteria may receive a “hardship exception waiver,” the ordinance states. That will apply to homeless people, domestic violence victims, people who receive government benefits and those with a household income that’s no more than 15 percent of the federal poverty level, according to the proposal.

Belvin, the library director, said hardware to launch the program will cost “well over $20,000,” a tab that includes the cost of a $9,000 machine that verifies documents. Existing library staff will manage the municipal ID program, city officials said.

The library plans to make application appointments available 25 hours per week once the program kicks off, Belvin said.

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