Activists Say Chinatown Needs a Municipal ID Center

Community Board 3 (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Community Board 3 (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Community Board 3 in Manhattan hosted a meeting on March 18 at 273 Bowery St. to discuss city services, education, health care and other issues of interest to people in the community. Representatives from various community organizations as well as the city were invited to participate. When the representative of the city government talked about the municipal ID, the audience reacted strongly. Some community board members didn’t hide their disappointment at the city for still not opening an ID application center in Chinatown.

Since its launch in January, the municipal ID program has been attracting more and more applicants. By now, the city has received 100,000 applications and approved 45,000 IDs. In order to increase its capacity and better serve the applicants, the city has been hiring more people and opening more permanent application centers in various locations. But Chinatown is still not on the list. Some participants at the CB3 meeting said they cannot understand why this neighborhood, with a large immigrant population, still doesn’t have an application center.

A city government representative explains how to apply for a municipal ID. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

A city government representative explains how to apply for a municipal ID. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

The city official said although there is no permanent application center in Chinatown, many community organizations have applied to work as temporary centers. After the city reviews their qualifications, approves their applications, and trains their staff, these organizations can work as makeshift ID centers for two to three weeks. According to this official, the city has gotten many applications from community based organizations, but it hasn’t made its choices yet.

But some CB3 members don’t think temporary centers are good enough. Gigi Li, chair of the community board, said there are many seniors and undocumented immigrants living in Chinatown. To apply for a municipal ID, one has to prepare a lot of documents and go through the application process. Temporary centers that are only going to be operated for two to three weeks won’t be able to meet the demands. And this will inevitably lead to long queues and endless wait times.

Li said the ID center closest to Chinatown now is the one on John Street. It is beyond the boundary of Chinatown and located in the financial district. Many seniors are not able to go unless accompanied by their English-speaking children. So the only possible time for them to go there is on the weekend. If an applicant forgets to bring his or her proof of identity documents to the application center, the appointment will be canceled and he or she has to book another appointment. This scenario often occurs to seniors and they may have to go to an ID center many times before they can eventually file their applications. This is a major reason that many people in Chinatown, although attracted to the benefits of the municipal ID, still haven’t filed their applications.

“I am not happy about the solution the city proposed. I will keep pushing for a permanent ID center in Chinatown so the Chinese residents here can apply for a municipal ID without going far,” said Li.

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