Richmond considers ID cards for immigrants

City ID cards become hotly debated issue in Richmond

July 6, 2011 1:32:03 AM PDT
The city of Richmond moved one step closer Tuesday night to approving city I.D. cards that would benefit undocumented immigrants, but the plan is not without controversy.

One of the few opponents of municipal I.D. cards found himself outnumbered at the Richmond City Council meeting.

The mostly Latino crowd is in favor of municipal I.D.'s that could give undocumented residents. People with no other form of government I.D. say it would give them access to things that most people take for granted like getting a library card, opening a bank account, cashing checks, and advocates say it would make Richmond a safer place.

"They're forced to carry large amounts of cash, therefore are specifically targeted for robbery and other violent crimes," said City Councilmember Jovanka Beckles.

Forty percent of Richmond is Latino and the city estimates about 10 percent are undocumented immigrants who help make up a thriving economy that can be seen along 23rd Street.

"I think that they work pretty hard and they have the right to be identified at least," said Richmond resident Samantha Bustamante, who is a server at La Selva Restaurant.

They would be picture I.D.'s issued by the city proving residency in Richmond. Richmond police support the I.D.'s because they believe a sense of legitimacy will prevent situations like the following example.

"She was a key witness to a crime committed in the city of Richmond and she was afraid and because she didn't have an I.D. to identify herself to police officers, she stood quiet," said Yenny Velasquez from The Latina Center.

"Think how much man hours would be saved by that I.D. card, saving the policemen from the trouble of having to take someone in their police car, down to the police station, doing background checks to find out they are indeed Richmond residents," said Richmond resident Eduardo Martinez.

But critics point out the I.D. cards require little verification that could raise security issues.

The municipal I.D. proposal passed unanimously. It still needs a second reading, but supporters there are confident it's a done deal.

Earlier in the afternoon, there was a rally in Civic Center Plaza in support of the municipal I.D. card program.

San Francisco has already implemented a city I.D. card program, Oakland will soon, and now Richmond is likely next. The mayor says one in four Richmond residents is foreign-born, many are undocumented, have a hard time accessing city services and are afraid to have any contact with police, even when they are the crime victim.

Richmond is a sanctuary city where police do not assist with immigration enforcement, but the county does.

"A victim has come forward, they've been asked to produce some I.D., they don't have one, then they're referred to ICE," said Roberto Reyes from a Coalition for Municipal I.D. cards.

"Of course we want to see a comprehensive and humane immigration reform policy and Richmond has stood for that consistently, I've brought forward resolutions calling for that, but in the meantime, while that seems to be stalled at the national level, we think municipal I.D. is really a step in the right direction," said Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.

The police department says certain details still need to be ironed-out, but it likes the idea.

"If it's going to give people more of a sense that they can actually come to us and report crimes or give is information or anything that they need to do in conjunction with the police, then we're very supportive," said Richmond Police Lt. Bisa French.

Critics say the I.D. cards will invite undocumented workers who then put a strain on government services.

"If this ordinance passes, it will encourage higher illegal immigration and therefore would put more pressure on Richmond schools and other infrastructure and therefore on the city's budget. And Richmond is pretty much broke," said Yeh Ling-Ling from the Alliance for a Sustainable USA.

There is still one more City Council vote in two weeks. If it passes then, it would be implemented by a third-party administrator at no cost to the city of Richmond. It is unclear what kind of timeline would be involved in implementing the cards.

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