On a day after President Barack Obama’s re-election renewed hope for immigration reform, the Los Angeles City Council advanced a plan for a photo identification card to help immigrants get access to banking and other services.
The plan would make Los Angeles the largest city in the country to offer identification cards to immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, allowing them more freedom, particularly in opening bank accounts.
In a city that is almost half Hispanic, the ID cards for immigrants proposal is also another step toward easing some of the hardships facing illegal immigrants living in Los Angeles.
Under the plan, a Universal City Services Card would combine a library card with a debit card function and would act as a photo ID.
An estimated 400,000 undocumented workers in Los Angeles would be among those assisted by the program, according to city officials.
“The federal government has failed on immigration and we have hundreds of thousands of people living in the shadows,” said City Councilman Richard Alarcon, who championed the proposal, which he believes would help move more undocumented immigrants in the city “out of the shadows… into the true light of day.’”
“We ask them to landscape our houses, take care of our kids, prepare our food for us in restaurants… and everybody knows it,” Alarcon said. “Yet we don’t want them to say who they are and what their address is.”
Alarcon said the card would also help card-holders avoid costly check-cashing shops as well as increase public safety by allowing residents to avoid carrying cash and becoming targets of muggers.
Officials believe that that more than 12 percent of Los Angeles residents do not have bank accounts, mostly because they cannot open a bank account without proper identification.
The Los Angeles plan would offer the ID cards for immigrants with a function that would work like a prepaid debit card for anyone who wants one.
On a 12-1 vote, the council approved putting out a request for proposals to banks or third-party vendors to manage the card program, while asking for a report back on the bids in 90 days.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has given his support to the program.
“It will be as strong an effort as San Francisco’s,” Villaraigosa said.
A handful of cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, already issue identification cards to anyone who can prove residency, regardless of immigration status. Oakland charges $15 for most residents, or $10 for low income residents and senior citizens.
“This card allows people who have been living in the shadows to be out in the light of day,” said City Councilman Ed Reyes. “Some say this is a federal issue and not our problem. Well, I’m sorry, I beg to differ.”
Some critics, though, complain that the ID card takes Los Angeles a step closer to becoming a sanctuary city for illegal immigration.
Last spring, Los Angeles police stopped impounding the vehicles of anyone caught driving without a license, a practice immigration advocates said too often penalized illegal immigrants who cannot get drivers licenses.
In October, the LAPD announced that it would stop handing over suspected illegal immigrants arrested for low-level offenses to federal immigration authorities for deportation.
“It is clearly an accommodation,” Ira Mehlman of the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform said of the ID card plan. “Los Angeles is making it easier for people who have violated federal immigration laws to live in the city.”