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ID card for illegal immigrants breezes through L.A. council panel

A plan to provide illegal immigrants with an official city ID card easily won a key vote Tuesday when members of a Los Angeles City Council committee agreed to solicit bids for a third-party vendor to handle the program.

Councilman Ed Reyes, a member of the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee, said it’s “about time” that L.A. residents, regardless of immigration status, have the ability to easily open bank accounts and access city services.

“This card allows people who have been living in the shadows to be out in the light of day," Reyes said, calling Los Angeles a cosmopolitan city with an international economy.

Reyes said opposition to the so-called City Services Card is inevitable because it touches on the hot-button issue of illegal immigration. But in the end, “cooler heads will prevail and understand the humanity of the suggestion,’’ Reyes said.

The committee voted unanimously to ask the full council to approve a request for proposal that would  allow potential vendors to study the city’s plan and offer bids on running it.

The committee's review was the first step in a process to create the card system.

Critics say the proposal initially raised by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the latest indication that Los Angeles leaders are taking an increasingly supportive view of undocumented immigrants as they encourage them to join in the city's civic life.

"It is clearly an accommodation," said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group critical of illegal immigration. "Los Angeles is making it easier for people who have violated federal immigration laws to live in the city."

But backers said the mayor was doing the right thing, pointing out that the initiative could reduce crime because fewer people would have to carry cash.

The idea for the city ID card originated in his office, the mayor said, as part of previous efforts to help immigrants open bank accounts so they wouldn't become targets of crime.

Councilman Richard Alarcon recently introduced a more limited proposal to create a new library card that could also serve as a debit card. But Villaraigosa said he wants to go further and have the city begin offering full-fledged photo IDs.

A handful of cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, issue identification cards to anyone who can prove residency, regardless of immigration status. Villaraigosa said it's time that the Los Angeles metro area — home to an estimated 4.3 million immigrants — joined them.


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-- Catherine Saillant at Los Angeles City Hall
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