“I Am Undocumented and a New Yorker”: Affirmative City Citizenship and New York City’s IDNYC Program

September 25, 2017


The power to confer legal citizenship status is possessed solely by the federal government. Yet the courts and legal theorists have demonstrated that citizenship encompasses factors beyond legal status, including rights, inclusion, and political participation. As a result, even legal citizens can face barriers to citizenship, broadly understood, due to factors including their race, class, gender, or disability. Given this multidimensionality, the city, as the place where residents carry out the tasks of their daily lives, is a critical space for promoting elements of citizenship.

This Note argues that recent city municipal identification-card programs have created a new form of citizenship for their residents. This citizenship, which this Note terms “Affirmative City Citizenship,” is significant for both marginalized populations generally, as well as undocumented immigrant city residents who, because of their noncitizen legal status, face additional hurdles to city life. Utilizing “IDNYC”—New York City’s municipal identification-card program—as a case study, this Note examines the strengths and limitations of Affirmative City Citizenship as a means for supporting undocumented immigrant city residents. It concludes that while Affirmative City Citizenship is a powerful tool for confronting barriers to citizenship, its success with the immigrant population relies in part on the city’s adoption of other proimmigrant policies that more directly conflict with federal law. Accordingly, it recommends that cities seeking to protect their undocumented immigrant city residents adopt both types of policies.

October 2017

No. 1