The creation of an official Charlotte ID card is still only a proposal, but critics are already lining up, including a national political action group that claims the city’s plan will “aid and abet illegal immigrants.”
Two immigration reform groups – the national Americans for Legal Immigration PAC and NC Listen – say they will press North Carolina legislators to stop cities from creating IDs, which are of most benefit to people who don’t have Social Security numbers.
In Charlotte, that population is made up largely of immigrants of all nationalities who are not in the country legally. They can’t get a Social Security number or apply for a driver’s license, and they are subject to arrest and deportation.
About a half-dozen U.S. cities have already created municipal IDs, which experts see as a way of dealing locally with immigration issues that aren’t being solved on a national level.
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Charlotte, like many of those other cities, has an immigrant population that is outpacing the growth rate of both whites and blacks, leading to entire neighborhoods and schools where foreign-born people are in the majority.
City leaders say that accepting them as residents is a practical matter. However, the ID proposal remains controversial and critics question whether it’s legal.
“It’s against federal law to aid and abet people in the country illegally and if this isn’t aiding and abetting, I don’t know what is,” said Ron Woodard of NC Listen.
William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC is more blunt. “We will ask the General Assembly to stop any North Carolina city from helping illegal immigrants,” he said.
Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter met with the city’s Immigrant Integration Task Force last month and asked the group to research a city ID program that can be used by all citizens to access community services.
The task force was created to craft policies that will make Charlotte more welcoming to immigrants of all nationalities, particularly those interested in starting businesses.
Recommendations – including whether to adopt a municipal ID program – are scheduled to be presented to the City Council in February.
Background checks at school
The idea of creating a city ID emerged in response to complaints from undocumented immigrant parents that they can’t interact with their own children in school classrooms.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools requires a Social Security number so it can do criminal background checks daily on people who want to do volunteer work in schools. The district recently announced a team is exploring alternative forms of identification that can be used to perform those criminal background checks. It may complete its work later this year.
CMS is independent from city government and would not be required to accept a municipal ID.
Still, Clodfelter said he hoped the new ID might help undocumented parents gain greater access to schools.
“This is a question for the entire community,” Clodfelter said in a statement. “The city, county, school system, law enforcement, community based nonprofits and other agencies need to work together on a review of the options to explore what may be feasible at the local level.”
Hector Vaca of the immigrant advocacy group ActionNC says he has doubts a city ID could be easily used for criminal background checks. To do that, he says the city would have to share ID card specifics with state and federal law enforcement databases – and that’s not necessarily something undocumented immigrants want to see happen.
ActionNC supports municipal IDs, he said, but is waiting to see what Charlotte leaders propose.
“This is another way to identify people, which is something even the police have said would be a good thing,” Vaca said. “I think it’s contradictory when anti-immigrant groups say we need to better identify the people who are in this country, and yet when you give them another tool that helps identify people, those critics say they don’t want it.”
Uses for municipal IDs
The Immigrant Integration Task Force intends to study municipal IDs created by other cities, including a program adopted last month by New York City. That program, which goes into effect at the end of the year, allows any New Yorker, “regardless of immigration status,” to get a government-issued photo identification card from the city. The cards are predicted to cost about $10 per person.
Proponents of such programs say the IDs can accomplish a lot of good, including making communities safer.
A study by the Center for Popular Democracy notes that immigrants who don’t have IDs are often unable to open bank accounts, which makes them easy targets for thieves. Such immigrants are also reluctant to report crimes and/or to visit doctors for conditions that might pose a community health threat, the report says.
Charlotte police say the IDs could also be useful in identifying victims of crimes.
Emily Tucker of Center for Popular Democracy says criticism of ID programs is often based on a mistaken belief that it is all about helping undocumented immigrants. In New York, city leaders are negotiating with museums, sports venues, businesses and banks to have benefits associated with city ID cards.
“Undocumented people may have been the inspiration initially, but I think it undercuts that effectiveness of (winning support for) the card,” she said.
“In New York, we decided to market it to a cross section of New Yorkers, including the LGBT community, homeless advocates, and even the American Civil Liberties Union, which wanted a form of ID with privacy protections: Something people wouldn’t be afraid to apply for.”