Richmond looks to create city ID cards for all residents
on June 8, 2011
Richmond appears on its way to becoming the first city in Contra Costa County to issue its own municipal identification cards, which will be available to all local residents.
The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to direct staff to iron out the details of the identification cards, which will be available for a small fee to anyone residing in the city, regardless of legal status. According to city reports, the new cards may be used by immigrants for banking and accessing city services, providing information to police, and acting as a debit card for a still undetermined fee.
City leaders made clear that the cards were in part seen as a way to assuage fears and encourage civic engagement by the city’s sizable immigrant community, many of whom are undocumented and in the U.S. illegally, which prevents them from obtaining other forms of identification.
“The cards will help (immigrants) feel more comfortable in reaching out to the police,” said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who moments later said the cards will send a clear message that “Richmond welcomes our immigrant communities.”
The measure, proposed by McLaughlin and Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, directs staff to draft a local ordinance and prepare it for review and a vote by the City Council on July 5.
Although Richmond would be the first city in Contra Costa County to recognize a municipal ID, the move is not unprecedented in the Bay Area or the nation. According to backup documents prepared by the city, San Francisco, Oakland, New Haven, Trenton and Washington, D.C., have all approved municipal identification card programs since 2007.
More than 200 people gathered in the Civic Center courtyard before the meeting to rally for support for resolution, and dozens packed the chambers when the council convened.
Proponents argued that cards will help bring the city’s undocumented community – which may number in the thousands – out of the shadows. Several supporters said during public comment periods that children and parents struggle to access basic resources like primary health care and library services without valid identification.
“This is a necessary step to make sure all residents have access to equal services,” said Eduardo Martinez, a local schoolteacher.
While the council vote was unanimous and the overwhelming majority of those in attendance supported the idea of a municipal identification card, there were critics, who objected mostly on the grounds that immigrants here illegally would be provided cards.
Raymond Landry, a local pastor, told the council that he runs a citizenship class where undocumented immigrants study hard to learn English and earn citizenship. He said he was concerned that giving identification cards without conditions sent the wrong message. “I am disturbed … I think this should go to a vote of the people,” Landry said, adding later that “this is nothing more than amnesty for illegals.”
City leaders hope the cards appeal to all residents and not just those who can’t legally obtain other forms of identification. “I will be the first to get my ID, I assure you,” McLaughlin said.
Among the high-profile supporters of the card is Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus.
A municipal ID could provide “… the bearer a greater sense of ownership, legitimacy, and worth in a community, which in turn, can make individuals more willing to interact with public safety officials, including the police,” Magnus wrote in a letter to Councilmember Beckles supporting the creation of a municipal identification card.
Councilmembers Nat Bates and Corky Booze both questioned the costs of the program, with Bates wondering whether there would be any cost to the city and Booze expressing concern about cardholders being vulnerable to excessive charges.
Beckles and Maria Rivera, a local immigration lawyer who has lobbied for the card, both said the costs would be “revenue neutral,” meaning the city would have bear no net costs and that a third party would be contracted to produce the cards and charge a fee for issuance of the card and for cash withdrawals and transfers.
Councilman Jeff Ritterman joined McLaughlin and Beckles in casting the identification cards as a human rights issue of particular importance to the city’s growing Latino community, which comprises about one-third of the city’s population. He said the cards could help unify the community.
“When we divide the world into us and them … the ‘them’ doesn’t get treated very well,” Ritterman said.
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