Two Staten Island GOP legislators warned of grave security risks today if Mayor Bill de Blasio goes forward with designs to wipe the files of his municipal identification program in order to protect its undocumented immigrant applicants—and announced that they are examining the possibility of taking the city to court over the plan.
De Blasio has repeatedly promised to keep the records of his IDNYC program out of the hands of deportation-happy President-elect Donald Trump‘s incoming administration. The city established the municipal identification initiative to assistpeople lacking other kinds of government-verified paperwork, and the legislation that formed it contained language allowing for the destruction of its records should a president hostile to the undocumented come into power.
Today, Republican Assemblyman Ronald Castorina and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis argued this proposal could prevent federal law enforcement from tracking potential terrorists and criminals.
“It is irresponsible for the City of New York—the mayor, the speaker and all the City Council members who support this initiative to destroy government documents,” she said. “We’re seeing government I.D. cards being issued to half a million people. And if something were to occur, and someone is using one of those I.D. cards to access a public building, how are we supposed to trace how that person obtained that card? What documents did they use? How do we start that investigation?”
The pair also asserted the program’s standards for evidence of residency are already too lax and vulnerable to fraud. Malliotakis in particular highlighted that homeless applicants need only a letter from a shelter they have stayed in for two weeks to prove they live within the five boroughs.
The assemblywoman accused the city of disregarding the advice of the 9/11 Commission, which found several of the hijackers were too easily able to obtain government identifications which they used to perpetrate their terrorist plot.
“Why are we issuing these I.D. cards in the first place? Why are we issuing government identification cards to individuals who are not citizens of the government? It makes absolutely no sense,” railed Malliotakis, herself the daughter of legal Greek and Cuban immigrants. “It was a mistake to do this program, and it is even more of a mistake to now say ‘we’re going to destroy these documents,’ and, you know—for security purposes, to know who is here in the city.”
The mayor, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and advocates argue that IDNYC allows the undocumented to take part in simple, workaday activities that require proof of identification, such as opening a bank account. But Castorina described a potential nightmare for federal agencies attempting to monitor the financial dealings of suspicious persons if the city expunged the data, and accused de Blasio and his allies of endangering Americans in order to advance a liberal “political agenda.”
“We’re going to have people opening up bank accounts where, if the FBI or the FDIC or any organization or any group wanted to find out whether there was a vetting process for this I.D., they’re not going to be able to find it,” he said. “This is an issue of not only local security and financial integrity for our banking institutions, it’s an issue of national security.”
The election lawyer-turned-lawmaker also vaguely outlined the legal case he and Malliotakis might make in seeking a judge’s order against the city.
“To destroy it for a political purpose, and not for a purpose that is related to a government issue, I believe is an issue that would need to be litigated in the court. And certainly injunctive relief would be sought if the administration were to move forward,” he said. “It’s something I am researching right now, I have attorneys researching right now. And certainly it’s an issue that, should the administration go forward, my colleague and I will certainly consider the option of utilizing the courts.”
The administration responded by accusing the two lawmakers of “reckless fearmongering” about a program that has enrolled some 900,000 people under the scrutiny of the NYPD.
“The safety of New Yorkers is City Hall’s top priority, and that includes the nearly 40 percent of city residents who are foreign born. We rely on law enforcement professionals from the NYPD to set the bar for security, and IDNYC consistently meets this high standard,” a City Hall spokesperson said in a statement emailed to the Observer. “Highly trained staff use state of the art technology to identify instances of fraud, and IDNYC cannot be used to obtain a driver’s license, board a plane, or cross a border.”
“We are committed to protecting the privacy and security of our data. The city will make a decision regarding record retention in the near future,” they continued
Castorina was a robust supporter of Trump’s bid for the presidency, while Malliotakis chaired the New York campaign of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and later lent her endorsement to the GOP nominee. Both called for the city to surrender any documentation that a federal court might request, though they stopped short of demanding de Blasio comply should such an order come from the Trump administration.
Castorina also disputed the controversial claim of outgoing Manhattan Board of Elections Commissioner Alana Schulkin that the IDNYC program enables voter fraud. The assemblyman pointed out that the state does not obligate people to show identification at the polls, and claimed there was “no evidence” to back Schulkin’s claims.
Updated to include comment from de Blasio’s office.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.