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Villaraigosa: City ID cards could help immigrants, reduce crime

October 12, 2012 |  5:20 pm

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is pushing a plan to help immigrants get access to banking services by creating an official city photo identification card that could double as a pre-paid ATM card.

The initiative could reduce crime because fewer people would have to carry cash, officials say, but critics contend it's another ill-advised City Hall effort to accommodate illegal immigrants.

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 Los Angeles -- home to an estimated 4.3 million immigrants -- joined them.

“It will be an official ID," Villaraigosa said in a recent interview. “It will be as strong an effort as San Francisco’s.”

Any move to add the nation’s second-largest city to those making official IDs available to undocumented residents is likely to intensify the debate over the role local governments should play in dealing with illegal immigrants.

Critics said Villaraigosa’s proposal is the latest indication that Los Angeles' leaders are taking an increasingly supportive view of illegal 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.”

Alexandra Suh, executive director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, said a city ID card is strongly supported by immigrant rights organizations. “An ID that recognizes residents as Angelenos with access to all city agencies would be a great benefit for all of us,” she said. "Things like the ability to check out a library book, to access health services, to enroll our kids in school, why should this depend on immigration status?”

Earlier this month, Police Chief Charlie Beck announced that hundreds of illegal immigrants arrested by his officers each year in low-level crimes would no longer be turned over to federal authorities for deportation.

City officials and other supporters of the city ID card say it’s a practical attempt to balance federal immigration laws with attempts to make residents less vulnerable to crime and more accountable to their community. An official ID would make it easier for many residents to open bank accounts, obtain city services and identify themselves to law enforcement officials, they argue.

But even Alarcon’s less ambitious library-debit card plan has met resistance. This month, the Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council voted unanimously to oppose it, said chairman Sid Gold. He said the mayor’s plan isn’t likely to be greeted warmly, either. “The feeling was there are other ways for people who don’t have documents to open bank accounts, and this is really a federal policy not a city policy,” said Gold, a psychiatrist. “The city should really focus on things important to the city like balancing the budget, fixing the streets and the transportation tax proposal.’’

The details of how the card would be obtained haven’t been spelled out. The ID card proposal is to be taken up with mayoral aides at a City Council committee meeting Tuesday morning.

Card applicants would have to meet “strict” criteria, the mayor’s office said. The card, which officials say would look like a student ID, would include a photo, street address, date of birth, hair and eye color, height and weight. Law enforcement agencies could choose whether or not to recognize the card, and it would not substitute for a driver’s license or be accepted to board an airliner, the mayor’s office said.


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-- Catherine Saillant at Los Angeles City Hall.  

Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Credit: Irfan Kahn / Los Angeles Times