EL PASO, TX – Following in the footsteps of other cities with large immigrant populations, El Paso advocacy organizations are pushing city officials to consider issuing municipal IDs to residents who lack documents.
“No one wants to have the feeling of being without identification,” said Guillermina Gina Núñez-Mchiri, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso, raising her right arm and waving her Texas driver’s license. “Or the feeling of not being able to say ‘this is me, this is who I am.’”
Supporters of the pro-ID movement say that the city-issued IDs would help between 40,000 to 50,000 local residents who lack legal documents such as driver’s licenses or birth certificates. Immigrant advocates said the Municipal ID Program will help local law enforcement and emergency services personnel quickly respond and identify people who lack legal identification.
The program is designed to help those who face challenges when trying to obtain identifiable documents such as the homeless, transgender individuals. children aging out of foster care, the elderly, and undocumented immigrants.
Researching costs, benefits
Deputy City Manager, David Almonte, said he is researching the feasibility and costs of implementing a Municipal ID Program in El Paso to present to the City Council before it decides whether to adopt the ID program.
“When the Border Network for Human Rights initially presented to the city, they estimated a start-up cost to be around $800,000, and my research supports that number as being in the ballpark of between $750,000 to one million,” Almonte said.
According to Immigrant advocates, many residents without identification documents are unable to access government and private services and benefits such as opening a checking account, obtaining access to their children’s public school records and even lack the ability to pick up their children during school hours.
In addition, advocates say, people without legal identification are often forced to carry cash and are dependent on pay-day loan businesses to cash their pay checks for a fee. Many of these residents also are often afraid to report a crime or cooperate with police because they lack identifying documents.
Opponents argue that the ID program would be costly and might encourage a wave of undocumented immigrants to apply for a city-issued ID, which would not require having a Social Security number. In contrast, a Texas state-issued ID does require proof of legal status through Social Security numbers, birth certificates or other documents.
Compassion, not citizenship
Robert Heyman, a policy intern working for the Border Network for Human RIghts organization, is helping to organize the push for the Municipal ID Program and has been doing research on city policies and regulations.
Heyman said that the Municipal ID Program, “will have no effect on a person’s citizenship status.. He added that “the implementation of a Municipal ID Program will change the perception of El Paso, making it more compassionate to those that are vulnerable due to lack of identification documents and is one more step in (the city) becoming a more inclusive community.”
Almonte said he has been researching how the program works in other cities that have already implemented city-issued IDs.
“We have to do our due diligence to see what the impact is, and because this is new to this area, there is a lot of information that is not available,” Almonte said. “It requires a lot of face-to-face interviews with multiple institutions within our community, such as banks, local, state and federal law enforcement, the major school districts and the Mexican Consulate.”
In the meantime, El Paso legal aid and human rights organizations are uniting to show their support for the measure. The city-wide effort is backed by various organizations, including Border Network for Human Rights, the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, Texas Rio Grande Legal Aide, Annunciation House Farmworkers’ Center, Sin Fronteras, the Opportunity Center for the Homeless, Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
According to Heyman’s research, “seven to eight percent of United States citizens lack the ability to document their citizenship, as well as a photo identification, and these numbers are higher for minority populations and low-income households.”
“This is a problem that is real for millions of U.S. citizens across the country and in hundreds of thousands in a place like Texas,” Heyman said. “It’s a problem that a municipal ID can play a role in helping to solve in some very basic ways.”
Almonte said he plans to present his findings to the city council this month but, as of this time, the Municipal ID Program is not included on any future meeting agenda for the council’s consideration.