By Victoria Cavaliere

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York City Council on Thursday voted to create the nation's largest municipal identification card program to include illegal immigrants.

The plan, approved in a 43-3 vote with two abstentions, will allow some 500,000 illegal immigrants in the city to open bank accounts, sign apartment leases and access other services where a photo ID is required.

Supporters of the bill, including Mayor Bill de Blasio said the ID cards will reduce obstacles for senior citizens, homeless individuals and illegal immigrants.

"We will protect the almost half-million undocumented New Yorkers, whose voices too often go unheard ... simply because they lack identification," de Blasio said in his first State of the City speech delivered in February.

The legislation puts New York on a list of other U.S. cities with large immigrant populations - Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Haven, Connecticut - that have instituted municipal ID programs.

The ID program will be the nation's largest. The card will include the holder's photo, name, date of birth and address. It will also have an expiration date.

Applicants can obtain a card using a foreign birth certificate, driver's license or proof of residence such as a utility bill. There will also be an option to include self-designated gender.

Voting against the measure were the three Republican members of the city council, who said its $8 million price tag might be better spent on other priorities, including the hiring of firefighters and police officers.

Steve Matteo, a council member from the borough of Staten Island, also voiced concern the cards could allow non-residents to access city services for which they are not eligible.

The ID card vote in New York City comes amid a national debate over how to address the millions of undocumented and illegal immigrants living in the United States, and a surge in unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America, who have been trying to cross the U.S. border.

New York's staunchly liberal City Council on Thursday also earmarked nearly $5 million of the city budget to expand a pilot program that provides free legal representation for detained immigrants facing deportation.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Gunna Dickson)

[Image: "A family of immigrants attends a protest," via Shutterstock]