Editorial: Offer local ID cards


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While President Obama is expected to address national immigration reform in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, a viable solution to this enduring problem could still be a long ways away.

Congress has begun to show signs of bipartisanship in the new year, but a divisive issue such as immigration could quickly threaten the political peace.

Fortunately, politics in Iowa City is not as convoluted, and a recommendation from the Iowa City Human Rights Commission could make a big difference.

The commission recommends that the city adopt a municipal ID-card program to assist those who likely don’t have the proper papers — namely illegal immigrants, but also the poor, homeless, and elderly.

The issue lies in accessibility. The burden to prove valid immigration status or produce documents that can be difficult to obtain can leave these segments of the population without any valid identification, a major problem in the 21st century.

It’s difficult to determine the number of illegal immigrants or others without identification, for the same reasons that these groups don’t have IDs. But in its report to the City Council, the Human Rights Commission determined that in 2010 approximately 7,000 citizens of Iowa City were foreign-born.

Mostly, a municipal ID (also called community ID) card would bring the privileges of having identification to those previously not privileged enough to have it. From buying certain kinds of medicine to opening a bank account to getting a job, the benefits of having valid IDs are easily taken for granted.

Today, the Iowa City City Council has an opportunity to extend those benefits to the people who have traditionally lacked access to them. A municipal ID card is a simple, practical, and humane approach to a problem with no easy solutions, and the city should act on the Human Rights Commission’s recommendation.

The concept of a municipal ID card is still quite new. New Haven, Conn., issued the first instances of them in 2007, and San Francisco quickly followed in its footsteps, launching a community ID card program in 2009. Iowa City would be the first in the state (and potentially the first in the Midwest) to create a municipal ID card, blazing a trail for others to follow.

If adoption becomes widespread, municipal ID can bring convenience for more than just the underprivileged. In Oakland, Calif., city identification also functions as a banking and debit card, and in San Francisco, a community ID works as a library card as well. Given Iowa City’s UNESCO City of Literature status, the card is a no-brainer.

In fact, even before the idea of a community ID received media attention, a survey by researchers at the University of Iowa College of School found that 90 percent of respondents indicated they would use such a card in Iowa City if given the opportunity. 

A community ID would not legalize illegal immigration. It would not fulfill the ID requirements for state or nationwide programs. But it would bring a level of accessibility to basic, everyday services to sections of the community that haven’t had it in the past. The politicians will fight over immigration reform, and something may or may not get done. But here in Iowa City, a simple remedy has been brought forward, and it would be foolish not to take it.

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