Municipal ID advances, despite opposition

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel at City Hall. | Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to create a municipal identification program — but prevent sensitive information from being used against undocumented immigrants — was advanced Thursday amid surprise opposition from a handful of aldermen.

South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) argued that the municipal ID program, for which Emanuel has already allocated $1 million, is a waste of money and would be better handled by the state.

“I don’t get complaints in my office that people can’t obtain any identification. If we do, it’s minimal. I just think we’re wasting taxpayer dollars, time and energy on this program. I think it’s a bad idea,” Beale said.

“If they’re having problems getting IDs, we can probably spend a fraction of this money toward helping people obtain a state ID or a driver’s license,” he said. “To come up with a municipal ID, we’re trying to skirt the system. It’s almost like we don’t want to do the necessary steps to get the correct ID. So we’re gonna create another step to give people identification.”

Northwest Side Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) voted against the $1.3 million Legal Protection Fund created by the mayor to support immigrants threatened with deportation under President Donald Trump.

Sposato was also a “No” vote on a resolution reaffirming Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city.

So it was no surprise when Sposato declared he can’t support the municipal ID.

“Why not the state? Why us? The state has the infrastructure in place to handle this,” Sposato said. “If people claim to be homeless — and I’m not doubting that they are homeless — they’re gonna get somebody to vouch for them and say, `Yes, they are homeless. And yes, it is John Smith. And yes, he does live here.’ And that way, we’re gonna give him an ID.”

He added, “I don’t know why with the infrastructure the state has in place to give out IDs why it wouldn’t be a state ID, why we have to meddle in this and spend our money on it.”

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said, he, too, is concerned about the potential for “fraud.”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) cut to what he views as the “where’s mine” mentality behind the opposition.

“This isn’t a Latino issue. This isn’t an undocumented issue. This isn’t any one group’s issue. It’s a Chicago issue,” Lopez said.

“We have an opportunity to help our residents at a time when nobody else is trying to. . . . Nobody else is trying at a governmental level to help some of the neediest people in our city,” he said. “And while it is only limited to being valid in Chicago, it’s a start. And so often, it’s the start that people need — whether they’re returning citizens, undocumented citizens, new students who don’t have a permanent residence. This is a chance for us to do something good for people.”

At a time when undocumented immigrants are living in fear of the mass deportations threatened during Trump’s campaign, City Clerk Anna Valencia assured the Budget Committee once again that personal information required to qualify for a municipal ID will not end up in the hands of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

To protect confidentiality, the city will ask for “minimal information” and will not ask applicants about their immigration status. Nor will the city retain copies of applicants’ personal information.

The name and date of birth will be the only information retained by the city. No home address will be required.

Applicants also will be able to self-designate their gender, a nod to the LGBTQ community.

The municipal ID will not be limited to undocumented individuals. It will also be available to people with disabilities and people who are homeless or victims of domestic violence who will be able to designate an alternative address.

The bare-bones approach outlined in the ordinance is tailor-made to follow San Francisco’s lead. In that city, applicants bring in the documents to prove someone’s identity. They hand them over to specially trained individual who review the documents, then hand them back.

“New York did it on a point system. So four points to prove your identity and be able to get a municipal ID card,” Valencia said.

“That’s something we’re looking at as part of a point system to prove the identity of the person. We’re also going to have our people trained just like the Secretary of State’s office is trained to authenticate the material,” she said.

The next step in establishing the ID program is to issue an RFP for the technology portion and identify ancillary benefits that might be tied to a municipal ID. Those benefits may include access to banks, cultural institutions and pharmacies that offer discounts.

The mayor’s 2017 budget allocated $1 million for the municipal ID program with a goal of issuing the first IDs before the end of this year.

“Sixty-five percent of the reason people signed up in New York was for the benefits and discounts,” Valencia said. “We’re meeting with museums and also sporting teams to talk about possible discounts. We’ve met with local chambers that would really like to partner with us on offering a discount, especially to local pharmacies so it drives people to shop in their neighborhoods.”

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