A plan for Los Angeles to offer identification cards to residents, irrespective of immigration status, moved forward after a vote from the city council. A broad coalition of immigrant rights groups joined community and faith-based organizations to push the council to support -- by 12 to 1 -- the plan to solicit proposals for the city card.
The card is meant primarily for residents of the city who lack or have difficulty accessing ID and may not have financial services, such as a bank account. That includes transgender individuals, foster youth, and the poor or homeless, as well as undocumented immigrants.
"It is an important document for us to become inclusive of immigrants into this society," said Manuel Pastor, Director of Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California. "It will benefit everyone."
An estimated 450,000 people in the city, or 12 percent of the county, are unbanked, making Los Angeles the region with the greatest unbanked population in the country. The card would cost $10 to $20 and double as an optional prepaid debit card. With the ID, cardholders would be able to load and spend $3,000 a month.
Cardholders would also be able to bypass expensive check-cashing schemes. The unbanked lose $800 to $1,000 dollars per year to cash checks. That's about $40,000 over a lifetime.
Additionally, public safety would improve because people would carry less cash, becoming less of a target. Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcón, who has pushed for the city ID, said that currently tens of thousands of cash-only immigrants are "literally walking ATMs for thugs."
"The card gives us security," said Los Angeles resident Alma Bañuelos, 47. "We and our families have a lesser chance of being assaulted. And that gives us peace of mind.
Plans for the ID include integrating city services more broadly, to those who need it. It will open access to libraries and might also be integrated with public transportation. Cardholders will have access to financial literacy classes and other civic and community services.
"An ID will have us covered," said Bañuelos with enthusiasm. "It will open so many doors. We will come out of the shadows."
Without an ID, parents have reported difficulties in picking up their kids from school. Also, in interactions with law enforcement, immigrants would be less likely to be confused for someone else – although law enforcement will make its own choice about recognize the ID as valid.
Other cities are increasingly considering developing their own municipal ID cards to address gaps in immigration policy and inadequacies in state ID policy.
Los Angeles is modeling its card after one that Oakland, Calif. will be rolling out January 2013. Richmond, Calif. will be rolling out its own card, too. Advocates in Minnesota are pushing for a card that will address the same issues of identification, public safety and the unbanked.
In response to a series of immigration raids in 2007, cities like San Francisco and New Haven have issued ID cards to residents.
The Los Angeles card would not cost the city, according to officials, and might make its debut as early as Spring 2013.
"It may not give them a pathway to naturalization, but it does provide a pathway to a better way of life," said Los Angeles Councilman Eric Garcetti.