ID card plan for illegal immigrants sails through L.A. committee

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
(Irfan Kahn / Los Angeles Times)

A plan to provide official photo identification cards for illegal immigrants moved easily through a Los Angeles City Council committee Tuesday with an array of supporters lauding it as a practical way to incorporate into civic life the area’s large undocumented population.

Ed Reyes, a member of the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee, said it’s “about time” that Los Angeles residents, regardless of immigration status, have the ability to easily open bank accounts and access city services.

Los Angeles is a cosmopolitan city with an international economy, Reyes said, and “this card allows people who have been living in the shadows to be out in the light of day.”


Opposition to the so-called City Services Card is inevitable because it touches on the hot-button issue of illegal immigration, the councilman said. But in the end “cooler heads will prevail and understand the humanity of the suggestion,” he said.

The committee voted unanimously to begin soliciting proposals from potential vendors who would implement the program, backed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Richard Alarcon. That won’t happen, however, until a draft proposal is brought before the full council in about three weeks, officials said.

Although no one opposed to the ID cards spoke at Tuesday’s committee hearing, the Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council sent a letter stating that it had voted against the proposal.

The photo ID would include the user’s name, address, date of birth and possibly other identifying information.

It could be used by any resident who lacks acceptable documentation to open a bank account or access city services, such as libraries or work-training programs, officials said.

Besides undocumented immigrants, seniors who no longer drive, the homeless and transgender people would also benefit, officials said, because they often lack official ID as well. City staff said the program won’t cost taxpayers anything because the third-party vendor would charge from $10 to $20 per card, and would also charge a few dollars a month if an applicant chooses to activate a debit card feature.


Holders would be able to load the card with money, pay bills, make reservations and make purchases via debit transaction at ATM locations, city staff said. San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond are among 10 cities nationwide that already offer such a card or are getting ready to roll one out, said Larry Frank, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff.

It would be up to Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck to decide whether patrol officers would accept it as an acceptable form of ID.

Representatives of labor, banks, business groups and librarians uniformly expressed support for the ID cards at Tuesday’s council committee hearing.

Jesse Torres, chief executive of Pan American Bank in East Los Angeles, said the card would bring security and “peace of mind” to undocumented residents who are forced to carry large amounts of cash on them because they don’t have an account.

He said some workers have no choice but to pay up to $1,000 a year in fees to check cashers and payday lenders. Antonio Bernabe, who organizes day laborers, said his workers deal with those issues on a daily basis.

“They are afraid to go into a bank to deposit money,” he said. “They are afraid to go into a city building.”


Betty Hung, of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, said an ID would bring psychological as well as practical benefits to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who live in the shadows because they’re fearful of deportation.

“It sends the message that we are one city,” she said. “We are all Angelenos.”

Ira Mehlman, of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said a lack of opponents at the hearing doesn’t necessarily mean the card has broad support. It just means critics of an ID card were probably too busy working to get down to City Hall, Mehlman said.

“It just indicates that people who are for it are highly motivated and turn out at these meetings,” he said.