A practical ID
Our view: City-issued identification card would help make life work for thousands
There’s a favorite saying among local government officials that their work is where the “rubber meets the road,” meaning that they are the ultimate pragmatists — making sure trash is picked up, traffic signals work, schools open on time. Theirs is not a matter of soaring speeches or partisan one-upmanship or “House of Cards” intrigue; it’s about meeting the day-to-day needs of the people who live in their communities.
The latest manifestation of this is Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott’s legislation to create a city-issued photo identification card to assist individuals who typically lack a driver’s license — the homeless, the elderly, victims of domestic violence and immigrants in the country without legal documentation, so they might have access to certain services such as public libraries, recreation centers and schools.
That it’s been assailed by anti-immigrant groups should come of no surprise. Their concerns more often come from prejudice than pragmatism. Such critics perceive anything that might convenience the undocumented as an affront to the rule of law, which, of course, it is not. Rather, it is a logical and compassionate reaction to the presence of 11 million people who live and work in this country but lack legal presence.
As we have noted so often in the past, the U.S. immigration system is badly in need of overhaul, but until Congress provides the necessary leadership, cities like Baltimore, New York, Seattle, Los Angeles and many, many others, big and small, must live with the current circumstances. Here’s just one problem that justifies a municipal ID all by itself — providing the means for undocumented individuals to open bank accounts. The alternative, dealing in cash alone, puts people at greater risk of becoming victims of crime.
Undocumented immigrants are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, a point studies have made repeatedly. The more they can be helped out of the shadows — for example, by being given confidence that they can talk to police without risking deportation — the better off Baltimore and other municipalities will be. An ID card could be an important first step toward that goal of improving police and community relations.
In NewYork City, for example, anyone age14 and older can get the 2-year-old IDNYC card by proving their identity and residency. To entice enrollees, the city has even offered applicants discounts to movies, sporting events, prescription drugs, fitness centers and supermarkets. And under the law, the city will destroy copies of applicant information within two years.
With the election of Donald Trump and his promise to drastically increase deportations, one can expect a lot more towns, counties and cities to jump on this particular bandwagon than the dozen or so that provide an ID (or are in the midst of creating one) now. Some of these communities proudly wear the title of “sanctuary city,” but they might just as easily call themselves “practical city” because the ID helps manage existing circumstances, whether one likes them or not.
It’s likely the most important endorsement for Councilman Scott’s proposal has come from the Baltimore Police Department. One suspects that Commissioner Kevin Davis and his colleagues aren’t looking to make some sweeping political statement, they just have a problem — how does the beat cop deal with someone committing a petty crime if that person lacks an ID? Most people just get a citation for such infractions, but that’s impossible to do if the officer can’t verify identity. The alternative, arresting the individual, is problematic — and, once again, more apt to drive the person and his family into the shadows.
Make no mistake, this isn’t entirely about undocumented immigrants. Plenty of other individuals stand to benefit as well. Battered women who flee brutal relationships with little more than the clothes on their backs and seek to rebuild their lives are among the more high-profile beneficiaries — and why the House of Ruth has backed Mr. Scott’s proposal. The only real issue left is cost and how best to pay for it, as the ideal card, like the IDNYC, which has been successfully issued to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, is provided without charge.