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| Immigrant Rights - Expanding Municipal ID Cards

Who We Are: Municipal ID Cards as a Local Strategy to Promote Belonging and Shared Community Identity

One of the paradoxes at the center of the struggle for immigrant rights in the United States is that while immigration law and policy is made at the national level, most of the impacts of those laws occur at the local level. Politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, DC, negotiate and renegotiate a statutory framework that includes some and excludes others, and design and redesign a police apparatus to enforce the framework. Meanwhile, in towns and cities across the country, immigrants and the neighborhoods they are part of experience firsthand the difficult realities of trying to live, work, take care of a family, and participate in community within a set of legal structures that do not always protect their basic rights and freedoms.

In the face of uncertain and incomplete federal immigration reform efforts, cities, counties and states are increasingly looking for ways to address immigration policy issues locally. This is the context in which the idea for municipal identification cards has arisen. Municipal ID cards can help individuals deal with the ongoing struggle to integrate and participate in civic life. 

Download the full report here.

Who Needs ID?

The ability to provide proof of identity is a basic necessity that many Americans take for granted. Access to widely accepted forms of ID such as passports, drivers licenses and social security cards is a privilege that attends other privileges—privileges of race, of class and of citizenship. But, increasingly, identification requirements gate-keep almost every aspect of daily life. Without the right form of ID you may not be able to open a bank account or even cash a check, see a doctor at a hospital, register your child for school, apply for public benefits, file a complaint with the police department, borrow a book from a library, vote in an election, or even collect a package from the post office. Ironically, the very people who are most in need of such basic services are also those who have the most difficulty obtaining the proof of identity that will allow them to access those services. In addition to serving practical urgencies, identification cards also have a symbolic importance as a sign of membership in the community. Cities that offer ID to their residents  regardless of immigration status are making a powerful statement of welcome and inclusion.

Goals of Municipal ID Card Programs

  • Improve community safety by making it easier for those without state-issued ID to interact with local authorities.
  • Improve access to financial services by providing a form of ID that will allow those without other forms of identification to open bank accounts.
  • Mitigate impact of racial profiling.
  • Make symbolic statement of welcome and solidarity to immigrant residents.
  • Promote unity and sense of membership in the local community among all residents.

Ten cities have already enacted municipal ID card programs: New Haven, CT; San Francisco, CA; Oakland, CA; Richmond, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Asbury Park, NJ; Mercer County, NJ; Trenton, NJ; Princeton, NJ; and Washington, D.C.   Campaigns are underway in several other jurisdictions as well, including Philadelphia, PA and New York, NY.