On Tuesday, The Times reported on a proposal in Los Angeles to turn library cards into photo IDs that illegal immigrants could use to open bank accounts and access city services.
My first reaction to the story, I must confess, was to crack a joke. In recommending it to Facebook friends, I added the line: “Just don’t forget to return your books or your checks might bounce.”
But the photo ID library card is a serious idea with serious advantages for illegal immigrants. City Councilman Richard Alarcon, who proposed the concept, noted that in his Northeast Valley district, some immigrants end up being gouged by payday lenders or robbed if they keep large sums of cash on hand. That wouldn’t happen if they could open bank accounts.
Predictably, there is opposition to the idea. A spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform complained that the cards could be exploited by terrorists and criminals and would encourage illegal immigration. (The first assertion is debatable, the second valid only in the sense that anything that makes life easier for illegal immigrants can be said to encourage illegal immigration.)
I foresee another objection to this idea in states that have introduced photo ID requirements for voters. The assumption in the debate over such laws is that all, or virtually all, of the holders of government-issued photo IDs would be citizens and thus eligible to vote. But if a second sort of photo ID were introduced, this one for noncitizens, poll workers might be confused and allow people with the wrong form of photo ID to vote. Yes, it’s far-fetched, but so is the argument that in-person impersonation is widespread.
The real objection to library cards IDs, of course, is not that they would add to voter fraud but that they would provide another reason for illegal immigrants to stick around in hopes that their status would be normalized. Far better, in some minds (including Mitt Romney’s), for them to feel so insecure and isolated that they decide to “self-deport.”