Charlotte considers IDs for undocumented immigrants

The Charlotte City Council heard a proposal on Monday from the Immigrant Integration Task Force to create a municipal ID to make life easier for undocumented immigrants.
The Charlotte City Council heard a proposal on Monday from the Immigrant Integration Task Force to create a municipal ID to make life easier for undocumented immigrants. sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

Creating a new municipal ID for undocumented immigrants has some support on the Charlotte City Council, though there are some unanswered questions, including how the city would pay for it in a difficult budget year.

The city’s Immigrant Integration Task Force made a number of recommendations to council members Monday, including the ID, which supporters say would help immigrants handle day-to-day tasks. Having an ID might make it more likely an immigrant would report crimes to police, volunteer in a child’s school, or make it easier to open a bank account, proponents say.

Council members didn’t vote on the recommendations. But the discussion indicated how they might vote.

At-large council member David Howard, a Democrat who could be a swing vote, said after the meeting that he wants to study the issue more.

“One of Charlotte’s secret sauces has been embracing diversity,” Howard said. “The ID is still controversial. I want to work through budget implications, but the police chief and sheriff are embracing this.”

The council’s two Republicans were skeptical about the ID. Ed Driggs asked a number of pointed questions of the task force chairman, Stefan Latorre, including whether the recommendations would circumvent federal immigration laws.

“We can’t do this in a vacuum,” Driggs said. “We have laws against entering the country without due process. It’s a real problem. It’s important to make clear ... we are not saying undocumented immigrants are excused.”

Council members created the 29-member task force in November 2013. The report highlighted the city’s growing diversity, including an explosive increase in foreign-born residents. In 1980, less than 1 percent of the city’s population was foreign-born. Today, that number has risen to 15 percent, according to the report.

There are 27 recommendations in all – including more outreach to help immigrants find jobs – but the ID proposal has garnered the most attention.

Latorre said it’s possible that a new ID program wouldn’t cost the city any money, if Charlotte were to find partners to underwrite it.

The city is trying to plug a significant hole in its budget. After proposing wage and hiring freezes and a 1 percent across-the-board cut to all departments, the city estimates it has a $15.6 million shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year. That’s a little under 3 percent of the general fund budget.

“The job of the task force,” Latorre said, “was not to say, how do you pay for this?”

Latorre promoted the ID as something that would help more people than just undocumented immigrants. For instance, he said homeless people can’t get a general ID from the Department of Motor Vehicles because they don’t have an address.

New York City recently started a new municipal ID this year to make life easier for its undocumented immigrants.

Democratic at-large council member Claire Fallon, another potential swing vote, said the IDs could help public safety. Someone who can’t open a bank account can be an easy victim for a criminal, she said.

Two other possible swing votes on the issue – Democrats Michael Barnes and Vi Lyles – didn’t speak on the issue during the dinner meeting.

Last summer, Mayor Dan Clodfelter said he supported municipal IDs. He has since said the city must wait for the task force’s recommendations.

The city hasn’t scheduled a vote on the recommendations.

Harrison: 704-358-5160

Harrison: 704-358-5160

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