Hundreds of people stood in line for hours at San Francisco City Hall on Thursday to be among the first in the nation to receive municipal identification cards regardless of their immigration status.
The cards, also available in New Haven, Conn., and being considered in other cities, have sparked fury among advocates of stricter immigration laws. They argue cities have no business declaring people residents if they are not in the country legally.
But San Francisco officials and recipients of the cards hailed the new program as a way to connect undocumented immigrants with banks, businesses and city services, such as obtaining health care and checking out library books. They also said it will encourage card holders to report crimes to the police without fear of being arrested or deported.
“I really need the identification card,” said Marvin Martinez, 50, who arrived in the city five months ago from Florida and is originally from Mexico. Martinez, who didn’t say whether he was a legal resident, stood in a long line–one made up mostly of Latino men–that snaked down the marble hallway outside the county clerk’s office.
“I’ll use it to look for jobs and for school and when the police stop me, I’ll have ID to show them,” he said. “It’ll improve things.”
People must show proof of identity like a driver’s license or foreign passport, as well as proof of residency such as a utility bill or proof of having a child enrolled in the city’s public schools.
The Immigration Reform Law Institute of Washington sued to block the cards on behalf of four San Francisco residents who said the program would aid illegal immigration. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch tossed the suit in October.
Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform–a national group that wants immigration laws enforced more strongly–said it’s ridiculous to create a program to attract more illegal immigrants when most U.S. cities are struggling financially.
“Maybe San Francisco is the exception to the rule, and they have money to burn–who knows?” Mehlman said.
City Administrator Ed Lee said the machinery to produce the cards cost $700,000 and staffing will cost $150,000 annually.
The card is good at some banks and credit unions, some participating businesses offering discounts to cardholders, libraries, to reserve park space and at all city departments and other groups receiving city money.
The cards are not a license to drive, not intended to be used as proof of legal age to buy alcohol or cigarettes, and not accepted by federal agencies.