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City to ponder local IDs

BY MEGAN DEPPE | JANUARY 29, 2014 5:00 AM

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In order to help community members feel more secure in their city, a report has been filed with the Iowa City City Council to issue identification cards to citizens who may need them, including immigrants, the poor, homeless, and elderly.

The cards could then be used to identify the holder to law enforcement, as well as to gain access to municipal and private services.

“It can be used for things like the library or if they are stopped by a policeman and asked to show ID,” said Harry Olmstead of the Iowa City Human Rights Commission.

If the recommendation is approved by the City Council, Iowa City will be the first city in the Midwest to implement this type of program. The ID cards will be on the agenda in the upcoming council meeting, and it will be discussed before the councilors make a decision.

A College of Law professor Stella Elias and two students wrote a report, called An Iowa City Community Identification Card, outlining the feasibility of implementing a community identification card program.

Jordan Moody, a third-year University of Iowa law student and coauthor of the report, said he got involved through one of his seminars.

He and recent UI graduate Eren Fleck composed a survey that was geared toward the Latino and Sudanese populations in Iowa City. The surveys were then distributed through Iowa City groups and churches.

“The Latino and Sudanese communities were surveyed, and 90 percent of them said that they would use the cards if they were available,” Olmstead said.

Olmstead said there was a similar program put forth in December 2012 that was not approved. In June 2013, the City Council directed its staff to research the feasibility of the recommendation.

“We feel that there is a huge need,” Olmstead said. “We have a large portion of the population that is below poverty level and can’t afford IDs any other way.”

Moody said he and Fleck interviewed six cities that have a similar program — including New Haven, Conn., the first city in the nation to have such a program — about issues such as cost and how the program affected the community.

Those cities include Trenton, N.J., Richmond, Calif., Oakland, Calif., and San Francisco. 

The cost of this program may vary — New Haven, for instance, implemented the program through grants and donations and has not requested any additional funds from the city since the program began.

On the other hand, San Francisco expended a large amount of its general fund, nearly $828,000, to implement the cards. Its ongoing costs include licensing, software and printer costs, which run more than $200,000 annually.

City Councilor Rick Dobyns said that while he will need to have the report verified, he is “friendly toward this institution” and “is likely to support it.”

“Most of these people are not here illegally; they are just suspicious,” he said. “Because of their background, they don’t trust the system.”

He believes the project should be funded through the community, not through the city, he said.
Moody said that while there are many economic benefits, the greatest one may be in “the greater feeling of acceptance in the community.”

“This is a subgroup of the city that has to live in the shadows,” Moody said. “Anything that would improve the relationship between law enforcement and the undocumented community would be the greatest benefit to our city.”


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