San Francisco to Issue IDs to Immigrants

The city's board of supervisors has voted to issue identity cards to all local residents, regardless of immigration status. This would be a highly controversial move virtually anywhere in the country, other than the Bay Area.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Immigration is a hot issue with voters. We'll talk about that in a moment.

First though, San Francisco has done something few cities in the rest of the country would support. The city's board of supervisors voted yesterday to offer photo ID cards to all city residents, including illegal immigrants. That does not mean they now have legal status.

But as Nancy Mullane reports, it's a gesture by that famously liberal city to make its immigrant work force feel more welcome.

Unidentified Man: A roll call, please.

Unidentified Woman: There are 10 ayes, one no.

Unidentified Man: The ordinance is finally passed.

(Soundbite of gavel)

NANCY MULLANE: With the sound of the gavel, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed legislation that will offer a municipal ID card to all of its 750,000 residents.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano sponsored the law. He says it's really about acknowledging the estimated 40,000 undocumented residents living in the city who can't get any other kind of official government identification.

Mr. TOM AMMIANO (San Francisco Board of Supervisors): The feds and the state are doing a lot of tap-dancing around this issue, but they're not coming up with anything that really addresses the reality of who our neighbors are, who we depend on for services, and I think this is the least we could do. And you know, God forbid, it's humane.

MULLANE: To apply for the card - available to anyone living in the city - the person will need to bring along another kind of photo ID such as a passport or foreign drivers license, a recent utility bill or bank statement to prove they live in San Francisco, and $15 for an adult card, $5 for a child card. Ammiano says anyone carrying the card will be able to use the city's libraries, public golf courses and health clinics, where that kind of resident proof is needed, and, the supervisor claims, these cards are a safety measure.

Sup. AMMIANO: By having that card, that increases the chances of reporting a crime that was either perpetrated on them or that they witnessed. The bank - opening a bank account would be very significant, and the banks are very, very supportive of this idea.

Ms. ANITA MACIAS (Senior Vice President, Patelco): This will allow an avenue for these residents or these people to come into mainstream banking and not pay the exorbitant fees.

MULLANE: Anita Macias is senior vice president of Patelco, a Bay Area-based credit union. She says as it is undocumented immigrants living in the city without two forms of ID are paying high prices to get their paychecks cashed at corner stores and check cashing businesses. Now, with the city ID, her bank and others will allow them to open an account, saving money.

Ms. MACIAS: It really benefits the unbanked individual - and that's good, that's good for everybody.

MULLANE: But not everyone in San Francisco thinks these ID cards are a good idea. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd cast the one lone vote against the cards. He says it's an expensive and superficial approach to a huge national problem.

Mr. SEAN ELSBERND (San Francisco Board of Supervisors): If localities all over the country are doing bits and pieces to various parts of immigration reform, we're going to end up with a haphazard approach to it, and we need a national fix to this issue, not a local fix.

MULLANE: While the new cards will provide some kind of proof the person lives in San Francisco, qualifying them for city services, it won't substitute for federal or state identification, like a drivers license, which undocumented immigrants still won't qualify for.

And Rick Oltman of Californians for Population Stabilization says the measure sets a dangerous precedent. He says voting in favor of the ID cards may allow San Francisco supervisors to take a moral stand on immigration, but it puts the city at risk.

Mr. RICK OLTMAN (Californians for Population Stabilization): Do you know who they are giving these ID cards to? No, you don't and neither do they.

MULLANE: San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign the legislation within the next 30 days, and then, if all goes as planned, San Francisco's first city identification cards will be available next August.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Mullane in San Francisco.

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