Under pressure from immigrant rights advocates, the Minneapolis City Council is moving closer to issuing municipal identification cards, available to anyone in Minneapolis above the age of 14 regardless of their immigration status.
Cities across the country have begun issuing IDs to help undocumented immigrants in an era of stepped-up deportations by federal authorities. Advocates for greater immigration enforcement criticize the ID programs as encouraging people to break the law.
In Minneapolis, backers of municipal ID in Minneapolis say it’s not about immigration alone.
“This municipal ID is being designed in a way that meets a lot of constituency needs, not just the immigrant community needs” said Alondra Cano, a City Council member and the chief sponsor of the municipal ID ordinance. “We are talking about homeless people, young people, elderly people, the GLBTQ community.”
City officials said the municipal identification ordinance is in early stages of development and would be presented to the City Council before the end of the year. The local ID card would be issued to anyone in Minneapolis above the age of 14, regardless of gender identity, homelessness or immigration status.
The city has created an internal working group led by Mariano Espinoza, an immigration activist and Latino community specialist in the city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations department.
On Friday, activists from the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC), which pushed for the ordinance, filled the City Hall chamber, carrying fliers that read: “ICE separates families right here in Minneapolis. Protect them with a Municipal ID now.”
“Our communities are suffering,” Daniel Romero, a volunteer and a leader with MIRAC, told City Council members. “You know what’s happening in our country today and you have the ability, it’s in your power, to change that in the city of Minneapolis.”
Under the current proposal, the ID card will have the person’s name, date of birth and address, with gender being optional.
In an interview Tuesday, Cano said city officials are exploring partnerships with the public works department, Minnesota Bankers Association, Hennepin County Library and small businesses.
Cano said the officials are proposing incentives to those who obtain the ID cards, such as discounted parking rates. The ID card could also function as a library card and make it easier for people with no other documents to open bank accounts.
“This is not a card for immigrant people,” Cano said.
The Neighborhood and Community Relations department has requested $250,000 in the budget for the launch and implementation of the program, Cano said. Residents could get the ID card for free for the first time, but they could be charged $15 or $20 for renewal.
The ordinance has the support of the mayor and council members.
“Immigrant families are an invaluable part of our community and they deserve to be treated that way,” Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement. “I’m committed to working with my Council colleagues and community partners to find a way to implement a municipal ID that would help immigrant families access basic services while safeguarding their privacy.”
Similar municipal ID programs have been implemented in major cities, including Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. In Minnesota, Northfield is the only city that has a local ID program.
Some critics of the local ID programs argue that it will drive more people to violate U.S. immigration laws. Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for restrictive immigration policies, said city governments should not interfere with federal immigration laws.
“This is an example of local governments deciding on their own that they are going to aid and abet people who are violating laws,” Mehlman said.
At the beginning of Friday’s council meeting, Council President Lisa Bender suspended rules to allow a member of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee to address the council.
“We are not in a normal time,” Bender said. “With a president that’s actively attacking our constituency, one of the acts of resistance that we have available to us as a city is to lift up the voices of our community members.”
Romero, who spoke on behalf of MIRAC, urged council members to act.
“Every single day families continue to be separated,” Romero told the council. “You can reduce those deportations, but you have to bring an ordinance here to be voted on and you have to pass it.”