A prac­ti­cal ID

Our view: City-is­sued iden­ti­fi­ca­tion card would help make life work for thousands

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

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.

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