Ahead of City ID Launch, New Brunswick Tries a Test Run

Residents applaud the establishment of the city ID program in June

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Don't ask Bob Belvin how the machine works. He attributes it to magic.

What matters is that it does work.

That's one thing that Belvin, head of New Brunswick's public library, is testing. The machine is a high-tech one used to verify the validity of personal documents, like a driver's license. The device will be used to help launch the city's budding municipal identification program, which aims to supply residents—including undocumented immigrants, homeless people and victims of domestic violence—with photo ID cards.

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Belvin and his library staff have been tapped to administer the program. Right now, he said during the Sept. 6 City Council meeting, they're testing the roughly $20,000 worth of new hardware and the process for actually getting ID cards into residents' hands.

Their trial run will span about 90 test subjects—people selected from local organizations, including the Esperanza Neighborhood Project, Unity Square and Women Aware. Some of these groups lobbied and helped design the program, and now their members are essentially beta-testing it, hoping to reveal any kinks in the system, Belvin said.

“What we want to make sure of, is that when those 90 people and then the hundreds after them come in,” he added, “if people have followed the instructions, we can get them in, get them out, get them done and everything is going to run right.”

And the city ID administrators have met some challenges.

One example, Belvin said, came to light thanks to Women Aware, which serves survivors of domestic violence. Abusive spouses often don't let their victims keep any paperwork, like birth certificates or social security cards, as a way to control them, Belvin said.

That's troublesome for the ID program because staff members must be able to confirm a cardholder's identity, he said.

“So we're going to have to work out how we can help those people,” he added, “because they need documents.”

The ID cards are important because they allow people to access city services and benefits, officials have said. Notably, they connect marginalized groups—like undocumented immigrants, the homeless and survivors of domestic abuse—to the system, a feat that's often difficult for any number of reasons.

New Brunswick's city council approved the creation of the program in June. By the end of this month, it's slated to go live, officials said.

In fact, Belvin's staff started scheduling appointments this week for residents who wish to obtain a card. The first one is set for Sept. 25, according to the city. To book a sit-down, residents may call the library at 732-745-5108.

As of Wednesday evening, about 90 people had requested meetings, Belvin said. New Brunswick expects as many as 1,500 people to apply for the cards within the first six months of the program's life.

And that anticipated surge of applications makes this window all the more important for Belvin and his team.

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