Will Phoenix ID cards document the ‘undocumented’?

| February 21, 2014
Valeria Fernandez

Valeria Fernandez

By Valeria Fernández
Special to the NNPA from New America Media

PHOENIX—It was tough to convince Viridiana Hernández to call the Phoenix police when her house was broken into. She now has a work permit, under Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) plan, which temporarily protects her from deportation.

But when someone broke into her house in 2012, her only form of identification was a matrícula consular (a Mexican consular ID card), and she was afraid it might raise suspicions that she was an undocumented immigrant.

Hernández eventually decided to call the police anyway, though she knows of many cases of Phoenix residents who are afraid to call the police when they are victims or witnesses of a crime.

Close to four years after it took effect, state laws like SB 1070 in Arizona—which was partially overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court—still require police to contact immigration authorities if they suspect that someone is in the country illegally, chipping away the public’s trust in law enforcement.

Hernández and other community advocates believe there is one surefire way to solve the problem, something that until now was unthinkable in the city of Phoenix: the creation of a citywide ID card that is available to all Phoenix residents, regardless of their immigration status.

The political conditions might just be ideal for such a plan this year, with three Latinos on the Phoenix City Council, and Mayor Greg Stanton who, like the councilmembers, received support from young undocumented immigrants, or DREAMers, in the last election.

Hernández is one of the founders of Team Awesome, a group of strategically savvy undocumented youth that has mobilized voters in city elections, helping to grow Latino turnout exponentially as a direct response to the passage of SB 1070.

“People don’t want to be afraid of the police,” explained Hernández.

Hernández and other supporters know that a city ID is no substitution for the need for undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients to have a driver’s license. But they say it could keep many from facing deportation as a result of contact with police.

An executive order by Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, the same governor who signed SB 1070 into law in 2010, now bans DACA recipients—and others who receive a deportation reprieve from the federal government—from getting an Arizona-issued license or state ID.

Other cities, like Oakland, Calif., San Francisco and Washington, D.C., already have their own city ID cards.

Oakland city administrators say it shouldn’t be seen as something that is only for undocumented immigrants.

In Oakland, the city ID card can also be used as a prepaid debit card—filling a void in banking options for many residents who in the past had to go to check-cashing stores to cash their paychecks, sometimes making them vulnerable to theft.

Since 2010, about 5,000 people have gotten an Oakland city ID card, which can be purchased for $15 for the general public and $10 for seniors. The ID is cost neutral to the city because it is administrated by a third party and has the backing of a financial institution, said Arturo Sanchez, an Oakland deputy city administrator.

Sanchez says it is extremely difficult to forge the card because it is linked to a database that can be accessed by the police; and each card has a unique encrypted number in the magnetic bar that matches the name of the cardholder.

Meanwhile, in Phoenix, Councilman Michael Nowakowski from District 7, has been supportive of creating a city ID for the last few years.

Nowakowski, who is the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, says police officers often face the challenge of having to ask people for identification when they come into contact with them.

“This is not just about drivers; this is when we go to their houses,” said Nowakowski.

During a series of community meetings with the Phoenix Police Department and city council members, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona and other local groups have been raising concerns about community policing.

Hernández says part of the problem when people come into contact with the police department is that they are asked for an ID, whether or not they are a victim or a witness of a crime. When they can’t produce a document that is state issued, that triggers an investigation that sometimes ends up in deportation proceedings, she explains.

That’s what happened to Ruben Calzadillas, who testified in a community meeting last December.

Calzadillas got into a car accident in May 2013. He was taken to the Phoenix Police Department and later transferred to the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“We have to drive without a license to go to work,” says the undocumented Mexican immigrant. “I wasn’t responsible for the accident, but they still took me in.”

Under SB 1070, police officers have discretion when it comes to asking for ID when someone is a witness or victim of a crime, if they determine that it could interfere with the investigation; the Phoenix Police Department policy mirrors that law.

Antonio Valdovinos, a DREAMer who works with recently elected Councilwoman Kate Gallegos, says Gallegos is interested in looking into the issue of city ID cards, but that it is too premature for her to comment without a proposal on the table.

Valdovinos is one of several DACA recipients who were hired by the councilwoman, provoking some criticism.

Another council member, Daniel Valenzuela, told a group of Phoenix residents at a public meeting in December that he would research the matter but was concerned that a city ID could serve to single out undocumented immigrants. Valenzuela did not return phone calls for this report.

Recently elected councilwoman Laura Pastor was not available for comment.

“A lot of people are going to be deported as we continue to fight that fight [for immigration reform],” adds Hernández. “If we get this in Phoenix, it could create a positive ripple effect in the rest of the country.”

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