City of New Haven

In September undocumented immigrants living in Hartford will be able to apply for the city’s newly-approved municipal identification card program.

The program, which the Hartford City Council approved last week, will be accepted by the city as proof of identity. The cards will display the resident’s name, address, date of birth, and a picture.

While undocumented immigrants likely will be the majority of Hartford residents applying for the card — during an April press conference, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra estimated that at least 20,000 undocumented immigrants currently reside in the city — it also will benefit others who are barred from or otherwise have difficulty receiving legitimate identification, such as homeless residents and ex-inmates.

“The goal is to diminish the barriers that many encounter when trying to get basic needs,” Segarra said. “It is for the men and women who are coming out of prison. It is for the people who may have made mistakes in the past but who are ready for a fresh start. It is for the people who are homeless and are looking for a home; for anyone here from another country that is looking to call Hartford home.”

The cards will allow residents to access health clinics, libraries, and other services and actions that require identification, such as opening bank accounts.

It also will allow access to local cultural institutions.

“Allowing Municipal ID holders access to some of the city’s top cultural institutions will not only help to bring thousands of Hartford residents out of the shadows, it also will enrich the lives of these residents and in doing so enrich the city’s immigrant and native-born communities,” Juan Hernandez, District Leader of 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, said in a press release.

According to John Lugo, an immigration-rights activist with Unidad Latina en Acción in New Haven, many undocumented immigrants in his community were previously dissuaded from using services that required identification, as they don’t want their passports to get lost or stolen.

“Having this card on them all the time has made them feel safe,” Lugo said. “They don’t have to use their documents and have them be in jeopardy.”

Lugo’s organization was one of several that fought for adoption of New Haven’s Elm City Resident Card program in 2007, which was the first municipal identification card program in the country.

“More than 10,000 people signed up for the ID cards, so it’s working according to what we expected and what we worked for, for many people in the community,” Lugo said. “Our people are happy with their ID card. It’s something that we’ve worked so hard to do.”

San Francisco was the next city to approve a municipal identification card program, followed by three other California cities, Washington, New York City, and five separate counties in New Jersey, all of whose programs were modeled after New Haven’s.

As one of the foremost trailblazers of the ID program, Hugo says that he’s proud of Connecticut for setting a standard for the rest of the country, and for continuing to do so with Hartford’s recent approval and Bridgeport’s approval in May.

However, he said he hopes that Hartford will do a better job than New Haven in demonstrating its commitment to the program.

“Sometimes I feel like the city should do more, they should advertise for more people to sign up. That’s the one thing we’ve been asking them to do,” Lugo said. “The new administration doesn’t have the ownership of the ID cards. We want the city hall to be more proactive.”

He said that he’d like to see the city learn from the advertising tactics of New York City and San Francisco, both of which hand out pamphlets and post advertisements about the program in public places like subway stations, Lugo said.

“We fought with the city to create it, and we’re fighting for it still. It came from the Unidad community,” Lugo said. He added that since 2007 his community has expanded exponentially.

Hartford’s program, which will be self-funded through application fees and operated by an outside vendor, is open to any resident, regardless of citizenship status or prison record. Applying for the card would cost $15 for adults and $10 for people 17 and under.

Bridgeport’s program is still in the initial stages of development. According to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s spokesman, the city set aside $300,000 for the cards, which they expect will be open for application by July.

“We want everyone to have equal access to city resources and a fair shot at making their way in the United States,” Finch said in a statement.