LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is pushing a plan to create an official city photo identification card that could double as a pre-paid ATM card and help immigrants get access to banking services.
The initiative could reduce crime because fewer people would have to carry cash, but critics say it’s another ill-advised City Hall effort to accommodate undocumented immigrants.
The idea for the city ID card originated in his office, the mayor said, as part of previous efforts to help immigrants open bank accounts so they wouldn’t become targets of crime.
Councilman Richard Alarcon recently introduced a more limited proposal to create a new library card that could also serve as a debit card. But Villaraigosa said he wants to go farther and have the city begin offering full-fledged photo IDs.
A handful of cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, issue identification cards to anyone who can prove residency, regardless of immigration status. Villaraigosa said it’s time that Los Angeles – home to an estimated 4.3 million immigrants – joined them.
“It will be an official ID,” Villaraigosa said in a recent interview. “It will be as strong an effort as San Francisco’s.”
Any move to add the nation’s second-largest city to those making official IDs available to undocumented residents is likely to intensify the debate over the role local governments should play in dealing with illegal immigrants. Critics said Villaraigosa’s proposal is the latest indication that Los Angeles leaders are taking an increasingly supportive view of undocumented immigrants as they encourage them to join in the city’s civic life.
“It is clearly an accommodation,” said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group critical of illegal immigration. “Los Angeles is making it easier for people who have violated federal immigration laws to live in the city.”
Earlier this month, L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck announced that hundreds of undocumented immigrants arrested by his officers each year in low-level crimes would no longer be turned over to federal authorities for deportation.
City officials and other supporters of the city ID card say it’s a practical attempt to balance federal immigration laws with making residents less vulnerable to crime and more accountable to their community. An official ID would make it easier for many residents to open bank accounts, obtain city services and identify themselves to law enforcement officials, they argue.
A City Council committee will discuss the ID card proposal on Tuesday.
Card applicants would have to meet “strict” criteria, the mayor’s office said. The card, which officials say would look like a student ID, would include a photo, street address, date of birth, hair and eye color, height and weight. Law enforcement agencies could choose whether to recognize the card, and it would not substitute for a driver’s license, the mayor’s office said. The card would not be accepted as identification required for air travel.