New York (AFP) - New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday signed a new law creating an ID card for anyone who wants it, including illegal immigrants, amid a wider debate about immigrant rights.
De Blasio said it would help illegal immigrants -- there are 500,000 in New York, he estimated -- get better access to a range of services in the city such as opening a bank account or getting a lease on a property.
"This is about normalizing and improving people's lives," the Democratic mayor said, describing New York as "a beacon of hope and inclusion."
People applying for the municipal ID card "will not be asked about their immigrant status," he emphasized.
The new card will be available starting January 2015 and will be free for the first year.
To get it, applicants must furnish proof of their identity and their residency in New York.
The city counts 8.4 million residents, more than a third of whom were born overseas, according to the US Census Bureau.
Often in the United States, driver's licenses are used as identity documents, but in New York, 46 percent of the residents are unlicensed, the mayor has said.
The new card will also be useful for homeless people, those just getting out of prison, as well as for transsexuals who will be allowed to choose which sex is marked, de Blasio said.
However, some have emphasized the new card could be dangerous for those of questionable legal status.
The New York branch of the ACLU, a civil rights group, said the new law would permit city authorities to keep for two years the documents used in the application -- and to turn them over to police.
Local and federal law enforcement agencies "can request these documents without having to show probable cause. And if they are requested, the city has no obligation to even notify the person so they might be able to defend their own privacy."
Despite the benefits for some, the group said, with these new cards "the city is inviting New Yorkers to gamble with the stakes as high as prosecution or even deportation."
The mayor announced his plan in February -- a few weeks after he took office -- to create the municipal ID cards.
The city council voted to approve the plan on June 26.
Municipal ID cards already exist in several big US cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington.
There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
Efforts at the federal level, championed by President Barack Obama, to reform the immigration system -- and give a chance for these undocumented residents to get legal papers -- have been bogged down in Congress.