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ID Cards for Illegal Immigrants: A Good Thing?

May 20, 2010

President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Wednesday criticized Arizona's law that makes failure to carry immigration documents a crime. But a growing number of cities around the country are taking a different approach: They are issuing identification cards (ID) to illegal immigrants. Government-issued ID is necessary to cash checks, pick up packages from mail centers or access clinics, doctor's offices, recreation centers or pools.

In New Jersey, Trenton and Princeton are among the latest cities endorsing a community-issued ID card. Bill Wakefield is with the group that spearheaded the ID card program there.

"It doesn't allow them to do many of the things that a passport or a state-issued drivers license would do. In other words, they can't get on an airplane. But they can go to the local library and check out a book."

Some immigration reform advocates strongly oppose the ID cards, saying the communities endorsing them are hampering the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.

Three years ago, New Haven, Conn., became the first city to approve community ID cards, amid considerable controversy. Now, Mayor John DeStefano says it has been a success and is no longer generating any news.

"Different communities approach immigration issues differently. We see one approach in Arizona. Other communities, such as New Haven, have approached it a different way. The bottom line to me is that the greatest periods of growth in America are when we've had robust immigration."

In Asbury Park, N.J., which is about 1 mile square, about 250 cards have been issued since 2008. That city's Latino liaison, Eve Sanchez Silver, says the card is especially useful when emergency workers respond to someone ill or injured.

"If they find a card and it says 'Oaxaca, Mexico,' it's not much help in letting you know where that individual should be now, where that person's family is. So having this community ID card really has been a help."

In Arizona, the failure to carry immigration documents has been made a crime. Community ID cards, in contrast, are being used elsewhere to make life easier for illegal immigrants - who fill many jobs some Americans won't take, Wakefield points out.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ND