Insights & Analyses

Judge rules NYC can destroy records to protect undocumented immigrants in ID program

April 11, 2017

New York City’s IDNYC program has netted a key victory for privacy, after a judge in Staten Island ruled that the city can destroy personal documents of undocumented immigrants who sign up for the identification card.

Justice Philip G. Minardo of the New York State Supreme Court sided with the city, allowing officials to destroy personally identifying documents used to apply for the city ID card. The ruling was first reported by The New York Times.

The initial lawsuit was bought on by two elected officials from Staten Island, who asked the court to prevent the city from destroying sensitive, personally identifying documents. The city then fought back in December, and stopped retaining immigrant background documents.

“With this decision, the State Supreme Court protected the personal information of a million New Yorkers,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “We applaud the ruling and will fight any attempt to appeal it.”

However, Justice Minardo also issued a stay on his ruling, allowing the lawmakers behind the suit ample time to file an appeal. They have signaled they intend to do so.

New York City’s desire to destroy records, and lawmakers’ attempts to prevent that, come in response to the election of President Donald Trump, a Republican who has vowed to take a hardline stance on immigration policies. Opponents — including de Blasio, who is a Democrat — have raised concerns that a database of immigrant information could be used to identify and deport undocumented immigrants.

Opponents, however, contend that the destruction of the data associated with the IDNYC program would violate New York’s Freedom of Information Law, and that the information could be used to solve crimes.

IDNYC enables people who are not citizens to obtain personal identification for services such as opening a bank account or getting a library card. While intended for undocumented immigrants, it’s available to anyone, and adoption of the card has been incentivized by offering discounts on events, goods, and memberships.

Federal law allows U.S. cities to issue their own identification cards if they choose, irrespective of immigration or criminal status. The IDNYC card program launched in January of 2015, and the lawsuit pertains to data collected in the first two years of the program, through Dec. 31, 2016.