New York Is Taking a Big Step to Bring Undocumented Immigrants Out of the Shadows

New York City is providing free access and special discounts to some of the city's greatest cultural institutions, while taking a big step to bring the city's immigrants without permission out of the shadows.

Starting Jan. 1, 2015, any resident of the city of New York, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status, will be able to obtain a municipal photo I.D. card, which will grant access to many city services to their holders. Residents without documents will gain access to government services that were previously out of reach.

The city realized the potential for a municipal ID to become a stigma if its holders were limited to residents without documents, so Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration came up with an ingenious solution to attract a broader swath of the city population to sign up.

De Blasio partnered with 33 of the city's signature attractions to provide an entire year of free membership to every person enrolling in the program.

The passes cover virtually every one of New York's major cultural landmarks, from zoos, parks and botanical gardens to opera houses and art museums. Each one has real value — while not every institution is offering free admission, many of them make up for it by offering free rehearsals, exhibition invites or discounted tickets and merchandise.

"The Municipal ID Card embodies the values we cherish most about inclusivity and equality, and these memberships are another step forward on providing greater access and opportunity for our people," de Blasio said in a statement at the Bronx Zoo on Thursday.

Every borough is represented, and the list is expansive enough that it seems like a New Yorker could feasibly spend an entire year's worth of leisure time exploring it. 

Below are just a few of the biggest attractions covered by the ID program.

Metropolitan Museum of Art


The venerable 136-year-old Met has a collection of more than two million pieces of art, and so many are on display at any given time that it would take multiple days at the museum to see each one. Membership grabs you free admission for one to the Main Building and the Cloisters in Washington Heights, as well as discounts on audio guides and other tickets. Anyone under the age of 18 gets to come for free.

MoMA PS1


If you're into modern art, this is absolutely the coolest thing on the list. MoMA PS1 hosts radical exhibitions of contemporary art set in a former New York public school. Even the boiler room (gilded in gold leaf by artist Saul Melman for a 2010 performance art piece) is a work of art at MoMA PS1, which boasts more than 45,000 pieces of art in its constantly changing collection. Some are even set into the building itself.

American Museum of Natural History


A municipal ID comes with unlimited admission for one person and four guests under the age of 18, meaning that visiting the country's third-largest natural history museum will no longer require New Yorkers to awkwardly ask for change for a five when making their optional entrance donation. It also comes with free admission to the LeFrak theater, which shows IMAX and 3D films. A regular membership costs upwards of a hundred bucks, and the free year may also entitle you to seriously discounted admission to one of the museum's coveted adults-only sleepovers (if current members can behave themselves).

New York Botanical Garden

Source: Seth Wenig/AP

This membership will cover an individual or a family of two adults and two children, granting free year-round admission to the 250-acre, 40-section gardens. While it doesn't look like the membership will cover access to special exhibitions, it's still a good deal compared to a usual adult rate of $13.

Brooklyn Academy of Music

Want to enjoy a night at the opera or a classic film? Municipal ID holders will get a choice of two memberships, to Friends of BAM or the BAM Cinema Club, either of which entitles members to big discounts on tickets, food or merchandise. Members also get advance access to fast-selling tickets. The BAM Cinema Club membership usually sells for $70, while joining Friends of BAM is worth $75.

Brooklyn Museum

New York's second-largest art museum boasts a collection of 1.5 million pieces, all of which you'll be able to see for free with the one year of unlimited admissions provided in the membership package. Members will also gain access to exhibition openings and special viewing hours, as well as enjoy 10% discounts at the museum's shop and restaurants. Not bad, considering an individual membership would normally run around $60.

Lincoln Center

You can pretty much see any kind of show at Lincoln Center, which sprawls over 16 acres and contains dozens of performing and viewing spaces. Membership comes with a bevy of perks, including access to presales, discounts, invites to rehearsals and early access to multiple festivals. This is a $100 value.

New York City Ballet

Municipal ID holders will get complimentary rehearsal tickets, as well as invitations to exclusive seminars, dress rehearsals and a members-only reception, a $90 value. The New York City Ballet was founded in 1948 and now boasts 90 or so dancers and 150 works, as well as a dazzling performance space.

Studio Museum of Harlem

Located on 125th Street, the Studio Museum of Harlem holds regular exhibitions of Harlem history and a permanent collection of more than 2,000 pieces of primarily African-American art. Members get unlimited admission for one, members-only hours, discounted program fees, and invitations to exhibition openings and special events. $50 approximate value.

Wildlife Conservation Society

Animal lovers will love this one. The one-year membership with the Wildlife Conservation Society grants ID holders free general admission for one adult to most of New York's zoos and aquariums, including the Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium, the Central Park Zoo, the Prospect Park Zoo and the Queens Zoo, as well as discounts for some merchandise and refreshments. For comparison, adult admission at the Bronx Zoo normally costs $30, so this is a great deal.

The full list is below, and you can check out the proposed free membership terms for each on the city's website.

Bronx 
Bronx County Historical Society 
Bronx Museum of the Arts 
New York Botanical Garden 
Wave Hill 
Wildlife Conservation Society (includes Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and Prospect Park Zoo)

Brooklyn 
Brooklyn Academy of Music 
Brooklyn Botanic Garden 
Brooklyn Children's Museum 
Brooklyn Museum

Manhattan 
American Museum of Natural History 
Carnegie Hall 
New York City Ballet 
El Museo del Barrio 
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. 
Metropolitan Museum of Art 
Museum of Jewish Heritage 
Museum of the City of New York 
New York City Center 
Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival 
Studio Museum in Harlem

Queens 
Flushing Town Hall 
Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning 
Museum of the Moving Image 
New York Hall of Science 
MoMA PS1 
Queens Botanical Garden 
Queens Museum 
Queens Theatre

Staten Island 
Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden 
Staten Island Children's Museum 
Staten Island Historical Society 
Staten Island Museum 
Staten Island Zoological Society

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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