Princeton Borough, Township Allow Illegal Immigrants to Get Community Identification Cards

Jeff Diamant, Star-Ledger (Newark), May 22, 2010

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Yesterday, Princeton Borough and Princeton Township became the state’s third and fourth municipalities where residents can obtain community identification cards that will be accepted at many local agencies and establishments even if the residents are in the United States illegally.

The cards–available to any Princeton resident wanting a first or second form of photo ID–are being distributed by the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The Hispanic advocacy group, based in the borough, plans to give out the cards each yesterday morning to anybody who has a passport from any country or other ID and also has documents such as utility bills or tax bills that show the person lives in Princeton.

While the cards–valid only in Princeton–are not an official government form of ID, the Princeton police departments and the Mercer County sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices have endorsed their use.

Still, such cards remain controversial, especially following last month’s passage of a law in Arizona mandating that immigrants carry ID and requiring police to check the immigration status of detainees they suspect of being in the country illegally. National legislative efforts to give illegal immigrants ways to remain legally in the United States have stalled.

Proponents of the Princeton ID cards say the cards, which cost $10 for adults and $5 for minors, will make life easier for illegal immigrants who, ineligible for driver’s licenses, struggle to get basic services even though they work and pay taxes in New Jersey.

“We think this card is useful to anybody, but specifically for those who are the most marginalized,” said Maria Juega, treasurer of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Our intent is to decrease that level of marginalization and make sure that everyone in our community has access to health care, police services and emergency medical services.”

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“It sounds like Princeton is basically setting up its own immigration policy separate from the United States,” said Gayle Kesselman, who co-chairs New Jersey Citizens for Immigration Control. “They may think they have a wonderful motive doing what they’re doing, the good people of Princeton, but they’re just encouraging something that should not be encouraged.”

Similar cards have been available in Asbury Park since 2008 and Trenton since last year. Different versions are available in a handful of other cities, including San Francisco and New Haven, Conn.

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It’s unclear what the demand will be for the cards. Wilkes estimated Princeton has 900 residents of Latin American descent, many in the country illegally, {snip}

Wilkes said he had expected a less enthusiastic response, figuring illegal immigrants wouldn’t want to do anything that might bring attention to them. But the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund–or LALDEF, founded in 2004–is respected in the community, and, Wilkes noted, police in New Jersey are not allowed to investigate suspects’ immigration status unless the suspects are charged with a felony or drunken driving.

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