The city of Dayton is researching whether to join a handful of communities across the country issuing controversial municipal identification cards to residents with no other form of ID, without regard to immigration status.
“This is a safety issue for citizens and the police,” Tom Wahlrab, chairman of Dayton’s Immigrant Friendly City Core Team, said.
Dayton is in the early stages of exploring how and why other cities have implemented ID card systems as part of its Immigrant Friendly City initiative. Wahlrab expects the research to wrap up in three to six months. The work could result in an ordinance for City Commission consideration.
The Dayton Daily News reached out to two communities that have established ID-card programs to investigate benefits and cost to tax payers.
In 2007, New Haven, Conn., became the first U.S. city to issue municipal identification cards.
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Since then, two cities in California, three each in New Jersey, New York City and Washington, D.C., have opted to use them. The city of Oakland, Calif., has debated a proposed ID card system, but is waiting for completion of a cost study before moving forward.
“This is about safety, but it’s also about making people feel welcome,” Chisara N. Asomugha, New Haven’s Community Services Administrator, said. “Challenges will always be made.”
The need for the card surfaced in New Haven in 2005 when immigrants, lacking ID to open bank accounts, were routinely profiled for theft on payday. Junta for Progressive Action Inc. — a nonprofit serving low-income immigrant communities in New Haven — called on students at Yale University Law School to verify whether the city could legally issue the cards.
More than 12,000 cards, available to all residents, have been issued to date. One community bank has agreed to accept the city ID as a primary source of identification. The ID also serves as a library card, school ID for children, provides access to beaches and provides discounts at some area businesses.
Asomugha said the city spent about $4,000 on a consultant to study the feasibility of the program and an additional $10,000 to roll it out. New Haven charges $10 for an adult ID and $5 for children.
During the first weeks of the program, the city processed upward of 300 to 500 applications per day with lines wrapping around City Hall and residents waiting hours for an opportunity to obtain an Elm City Resident Card, referring to the city’s nickname. Just 1,000 cards were issued in 2010.
Lisa Wilson, New Haven’s registrar of vital statistics, said the cards are similar in size to a hotel key card. She said the cards are not accepted for anything that you would want to make a fake ID for, so there aren’t a lot of security features.
“It’s not like you can walk into a bar and use it,” she said.
Dayton resident Andy Es-pino, a first-generation Mexican-American, believes a city ID card is a much needed move in the right direction here.
“This is a heart-felt issue for me,” Espino said. “I’ve had relatives who have had to travel to Detroit and Indianapolis, just to get an ID card.”
Espino, who works at an after-school program at Ruskin Elementary School for East End Community Services, said police don’t always accept the matrícula consular, an ID issued by the Mexican consulate.
“Having a city ID card would give a lot of immigrants a sense of security,” he said. “They could walk along the street and not fear being stopped by police.”
The cards have drawn criticism from those who say they coddle illegal immigrants. Steve Savi, founder of the Cleveland-based, Ohio Jobs and Justice PAC, said failure to ask immigration status is a lot like a “Don’t ask. Don’t tell” policy.
“It’s the same thing as a wink and a nod. These people are violating the law and they know they are violating the law,” Savi said.
After the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed legislation to issue city ID cards in 2007, it fell to Karen Hong Yee, director of the Office of County Clerk, to design a system with built-in safety features to shield against fraud and counterfeiting.
“We did a lot of vetting of worst-case scenarios,” Hong Yee said. “My card is more secure than a driver’s license.”
Development took more than a year. The cost to get the system up and running came in at $538,000 for software development, software, hardware and staff training. Maintenance costs run about $70,000 yearly, which doesn’t include the salaries of three clerks who issue the cards.
Applicants are charged a $15 fee for an adult card and $5 for children under 14, senior citizens and low-income residents. To make the program self-sufficient, the cost of the card would have to about $75 each, Hong Yee said.
The SF City ID Card system includes biometric facial recognition software, to ensure the same individual doesn’t apply twice under different names.
The polycarbonate card, unbreakable glass, includes laser images that change depending on the tilt of the card and personal information is engraved with an irreversible laser.
“The cards have never been challenged in court or otherwise,” Hong Yee said.
As in New Haven, applicants daily surrounded the building during the first month of issuance.
“They started arriving earlier and earlier, coming at 6 a.m., then 3 a.m.,” Hong Yee said. “We changed to an appointment system after the first month.”
As a sanctuary city, San Francisco doesn’t ask immigration status, but in New Haven applicants are required to provide proof of identity and residence.
“Nobody is undocumented. Everybody has documents somewhere,” Hong Yee said. “If you walk in here with nothing, don’t expect to walk out with a card.”
If proper documents are provided, the cards are issued the same day.
The card database only keeps record of name, birth date and the photo. Addresses are not kept on file to protect the applicant, Hong Yee said.
Since kickoff of the program in January 2009, 24,673 applicants have scheduled appointments. Of those, 16,922 showed up for their appointments and 12,556 have been issued a SF City ID Card.
“The card is not just for immigrants. They’re for anyone who needs an ID right now,” Hong Yee said.
“It beats going to the DMV and having to wait for a card to be mailed to you.”
The card serves as proof of identity for city services; provides discounts at San Francisco family excursions, restaurants and museums. It also may be used as a public library card and as a form of ID to open a checking account at participating banks.