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Charlotte city ID plan undaunted by state opposition

Charlotte’s proposed Municipal ID plan is moving ahead, despite the introduction of two N.C. House bills that would render such forms of identification unusable, if not illegal.Charlotte is one of a growing number of cities that have the ID cards or are creating them, including New York, San Francisco, New Haven, Conn., and Ann Arbor, Mich. In this photo, a New Haven resident poses for her card.
Charlotte’s proposed Municipal ID plan is moving ahead, despite the introduction of two N.C. House bills that would render such forms of identification unusable, if not illegal.Charlotte is one of a growing number of cities that have the ID cards or are creating them, including New York, San Francisco, New Haven, Conn., and Ann Arbor, Mich. In this photo, a New Haven resident poses for her card.

Charlotte’s proposed Municipal ID plan is moving ahead, despite the introduction of two N.C. House bills that would render such forms of identification unusable, if not illegal.

N.C. House Bill 318 and House Bill 328, both of which are tied to immigrant issues, make clear that any form of identification created by local governments would not be acceptable for determining a person’s identity in the state.

Charlotte officials say they are watching the bills’ progress, but aren’t letting them stall work on fully vetting an official ID card for all city residents, including those not legally in the country.

The identification card, which was proposed by Charlotte’s Immigrant Integration Task Force, has been a source of tension between factions that welcome all immigrants and those who see the ID card as a way to make illegal immigration more acceptable.

Charlotte is one of a growing number of cities that have the ID cards or are creating them, including New York, San Francisco, New Haven, Conn., and Ann Arbor, Mich.

Experts say benefits of a city ID are many, particularly in states with large populations of undocumented immigrants. It is estimated North Carolina has 350,000 such residents, and all are forbidden by state law to have a driver’s license, the most widely accepted form of personal identification.

Proponents say a Charlotte ID would help law enforcement identify such people who are victims of crime, or those who are suspects. And it could be used by hospitals to identify people in emergency rooms. A team has been created to promote the ID to the broader community, noting it could be used to get discounts to arts venues and community events.

‘Dangerous threat’

Last month, the city created a team to study the 27 task force recommendations, and determine which of them could be added to existing programs and which would need city council action. Anything that counts as an official policy change would need a council vote, city staff said.

Pat Mumford, director of Neighborhood & Business Services for the city, said the General Assembly efforts can’t be viewed as an attempt to “kill” Charlotte’s ID plan, since the city’s hasn’t yet launched the program.

“There’s nothing to kill. There’s not an effort afoot to move on the municipal ID, but there is activity underway to research and vet all the proposals by the Immigrant Integration Task Force,” said Mumford. “We are not getting ahead of the General Assembly and we respect the activity that is occurring in Raleigh.”

Both of the proposed N.C. House bills seek to tackle larger immigrant-related issues.

House Bill 318 would require businesses employing five or more more people to use the Federal E-Verify program database, tightening the current requirement that businesses employ 25 or more people. Sponsors say the law would keep people from immigrating illegally. Municipal IDs are cited as an example of forms of ID that would not be acceptable. (The bill passed the House and is in the Senate Rules committee.)

House Bill 328 is considered a crackdown on counterfeiting documents. It would grant driving permits to North Carolina residents who are in the U.S. illegally, by creating a restricted state ID for undocumented residents who undergo fingerprinting, background checks and prove their identity and state residence. They would also have to be insured and pass driving test requirements.

The restricted state ID – which would make a city ID moot – could not be used as a form of identification to vote or apply for public assistance, and it would not grant citizenship status.

The bill has won the support of a variety of immigrant groups, including Gov. Pat McCrory’s Latino Advisory Council, which passed a resolution in support of the bill this month.

N.C. Rep. Paul Stam says Charlotte’s proposed ID did not prompt House Bill 328, but played a small role. He says Charlotte would join a growing number of communities with some variation of an ID, including Winston-Salem and Greensboro.

“A proliferation of pseudo identification cards for undocumented individuals creates a dangerous threat to our citizens. It makes law enforcement more dangerous,” Stam said in a statement.

“Without the means or authority to investigate the individuals background or identity, these cards give the illusion of legitimacy to individuals who may be engaged in criminal activity.”

Hispanic numbers growing

North Carolina requires proof of legal U.S. residency for a driver’s license and proof you live in the state. But that wasn’t always the case. In the 1990s, North Carolina was known among undocumented immigrants for its leniency in license applications, requiring only a Mexican ID card, or “matricula,” as proof of identity.

As a result, immigrants traveled to North Carolina from across the country to get a driver’s license that could be used in any state. N.C. laws were tightened in 2001 to require proof of state residency and again in 2004 to require proof of legal status, making it impossible for undocumented immigrants to legally drive here.

That’s considered a problem for communities like Mecklenburg County, where Hispanics make up the fastest growing part of the population. The Hispanic population here grew by nearly 11 percent between 2010 and 2013, twice as fast as its white population, data shows.

The city’s Immigrant Integration Task Force was created to find ways the city could benefit more from its growing international population. It finalized its recommendations in March.

Most of the proposals are aimed at helping immigrant entrepreneurs more easily start and promote their businesses. Other recommendations include a “start up row” in a vacant strip mall for immigrant entrepreneurs, “International Corridor” grants to market economic development zones for immigrant businesses, and a “Going Global” campaign that helps local businesses find international markets.

It’s still unknown where the city will get money to launch the proposals, including the ID. In a report given Wednesday before the Charlotte International Cabinet, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Major Diego Anselmo said some cities have used tax dollars for their ID programs, while others have used corporate grants.

Implementation costs have varied widely, he said, from $13.4 million in New York City to $250,000 in New Haven, Conn.

In San Francisco a group filed a legal challenge to the ID plan. However, the matter was later decided in the city’s favor, Anselmo said.

Immigration reform groups like NC Listen and the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC have expressed opposition to Charlotte’s proposed plan, but none have taken action to stop the city.

Ron Woodard of NC Listen believes the group had some influence in the current House actions against municipal IDs. After learning of Charlotte’s plan, NC Listen members were encouraged to contact state legislators and warn them of the dangers of different cities having different official IDs.

“We certainly tried to get something done and we’d like to believe we had a hand in encouraging the bill writers,” Woodard said. “We think (municipal IDs) are all wrong and send a message that it’s okay to be here illegally.”

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