Proposal to Issue IDs to Immigrants Clears Hurdle in Los Angeles

A Los Angeles proposal to provide photo identification to undocumented immigrants and other marginalized populations cleared a city council committee unanimously on Tuesday.

The measure proposed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa would make cards available to any city resident for a small fee. They would include identifying information, allow access to city services such as libraries, and could be used as prepaid debit cards. During the hearing on the measure Tuesday, not a single person spoke in opposition to the measure, and those imploring its passage included not just immigrant advocates, but bankers and business owners, who would benefit from the business of the city’s estimated 4.3 million immigrants.

The proposal aims to reduce crime and increase access for the city’s immigrants, as well as seniors, the homeless and other individuals who have no identification. Those who cannot open a bank account must carry around significant amounts of cash, and day laborers are particular targets for theft. The city also plans to make the cards gender-neutral for transgender individuals. Other cities, including New Haven, San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond, California have passed similar measures, but Los Angeles would be the largest jurisdiction to do so.

Unlike the harsh measures in Arizona and other states that seek to criminalize immigrants and racially profile, ID proposals seek to reduce crime and increase revenue by bringing the immigrant population “out of the shadows.” Importantly, these laws are also less susceptible to legal challenges that charge local interference with federal immigration policy because they do not even consider immigration status, and the card is made available to any city resident who can verify his or her identify. Initial legal challenges to the measures in New Haven and San Francisco were rejected. Of course, because the federal government has the ultimate purview over immigration policy, laws like this can do nothing to change the legal status of immigrants, who remain in legal limbo until the federal government does more to exercise that power.