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While the topic of immigration has been largely viewed as an issue reserved for the federal government, there are cities across the United States finding their own approach to dealing with immigration issues related to an increasing number of undocumented residents.

Instead of isolating and discriminating against these communities, cities such as New Haven, Connecticut and San Francisco, California are taking a new approach towards them with the implementation of a municipal ID program.



Municipal IDs 101

These programs allow a municipality, such as a city, to issue identification cards to residents, regardless of their United States citizenship status. The programs differ from city to city, but most require that the person provide a form of identification, such as a passport, and a document that will prove that he or she has been residing in the city for at least fifteen or thirty days. This documentation can be provided in the form a bill, pay stub, or any other document that would prove residency.

The identification cards are inexpensive and must be renewed periodically.

Pros and Cons of the ID card system

These municipal ID cards have proven to be a functional tool to allow undocumented individuals to more openly integrate into the community and contribute to the economy. The identification cards create opportunities for immigrants to open bank accounts, find housing, and use city programs such as hospitals and libraries.

Trouble and skepticism have risen around the cards because some people are worried about the safety of the immigrants using them. Anti-immigration groups have requested the names of all of the immigrants who have requested a municipal identification card, so that they can turn those names over to the federal immigration authorities, perhaps for deportation.

To date, the participating cities have refused to turn over this information to protect the immigrants’ rights to privacy and safety. Some cities, however, such as Dayton, Ohio, have created variations of their own municipal ID program and are requiring immigrant status checks to be performed on those who are suspected of serious crimes.

Opponents of the program argue that the existence of these programs is a violation of federal law as it creates a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, and, furthermore, that the municipal identification program invites increased criminal activity to the areas in which it is practiced. The cities which have municipal identification cards maintain that the cards do not grant the immigrant legal residency or citizenship; and that the cards merely give immigrants a document that makes it easier for them to live and work in the community. They further suggest that the program does not compromise or interfere with the federal process for naturalization .

Additionally, the Mayor of New Haven, CT, John DeStefano Jr., announced in December that he hopes to ask state legislators to allow undocumented aliens to be granted the right to vote. Actions such as those by DeStafano fuel disputes in public debate about whether these municipal ID card systems will eventually lead to immigration changes on a larger scale.

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