San Fran OKs ID Card for Immigrants
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The mayor signed legislation Wednesday requiring the city to issue identification cards to undocumented immigrants and other residents who can't or won't apply for driver's licenses.
The IDs would not enable cardholders to drive in San Francisco, and they would not stand in for a work visa or Social Security number for those seeking employment. But the IDs would qualify them for health services at city-run clinics, public library privileges and resident discounts at museums and other cultural institutions, according to Mayor Gavin Newsom.
Despite the strong emotions the immigration debate arouses, Newsom said, he sees the ID card program as a practical move that will make it easier for San Francisco citizens to qualify for local services and for city government workers to determine who is eligible to receive them.
"San Francisco does more than most other cities in the United States for its residents, but you need to prove you are a resident and there's no easier way to do it than having one card," he said. "I don't think it's that big of a deal and I think it's inevitable in other cities."
The legislation, which was approved by city lawmakers last week and is to take effect at the end of August 2008, was modeled after a program launched in New Haven, Conn., over the summer. Similar initiatives are under consideration in New York and Miami.
Mayor signs law creating city ID cards for undocumented residents
Associated Press - November 28, 2007 7:14 PM ET
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom signed legislation today requiring the city to issue identification cards to illegal immigrants and other residents who can't or won't apply for driver's licenses.
Newsom says he sees the ID card program as a practical move that will make it easier for San Francisco citizens to qualify for local services.
The legislation was approved by city lawmakers last week and is scheduled to take effect at the end of August next year.
Similar initiatives are under consideration in New York City and Miami.
San Francisco ID program: Legitimizing illegal immigration
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
During the Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia last month, Sen. Hillary Clinton found out firsthand just how contentious a subject illegal immigration is likely to be in the 2008 election.
Expressing support, however equivocal, for New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's proposal to provide drivers licenses for illegal immigrants put Clinton in her most perilous position to date. It also shed light on her propensity for pandering, considering that in 2004 she fashioned herself a hard-liner on illegal immigration.
Clinton soon backed off from her debate stance and, not long after, Spitzer did the same, dispensing with the driver's license plan in the face of mounting bipartisan criticism. Clearly, this was not a popular position with a majority of Americans, regardless of political party.
Yet even as this drama unfolded on the national stage, San Francisco city officials were preparing to implement a similarly misguided policy. Supervisor Tom Ammiano introduced a measure earlier this month to provide municipal identification cards to illegal immigrants, transgender people, senior citizens no longer capable of driving, and other city residents, who either cannot or will not obtain a state-issued driver's license. To be eligible, residents will need to provide a passport, foreign driver's license or other photo ID, in addition to a recent utility bill or bank statement. The Board of Supervisors approved the measure 10-1 and Mayor Gavin Newsom has pledged to do sign it into law. The proposal will go into effect in August, 2008, making San Francisco the largest city to offer such a program.
The ID cards will serve as proof of identity for anything from city business to obtaining library cards to contending with police stops. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Washington Mutual, and US Bank have all expressed interest in accepting the ID cards, and according to the Associated Press, "Government agencies and nonprofit groups that receive city funds would be required to accept the cards as valid identification and proof of residency except for hiring or other areas where doing so conflicts with federal or state laws."
While some of the program's critics have focused on the ID cards' appeal to San Francisco's transgender population and expressed concern that the apparently quaint notion of gender will be marginalized in the process, this is merely a side note to the main issue at hand. As stated by the San Mateo County Times, the ID program will serve to "legitimize the city's estimated 40,000 illegal immigrants." Opponents of the program, as noted by the San Francisco Chronicle, second that conclusion, fearing that the IDs will have "the effect of legitimizing the decisions of people who entered or have remained in the country illegally and making it more difficult for the federal government to enforce (federal immigration) laws."
Were the issue simply about obtaining identification, a state-issued ID card rather than a driver's license would suffice. But since citizenship is still a requirement for the latter, clearly, the program's main beneficiaries will be illegal immigrants.
Ammiano's stated reasoning for the ID program is to bring illegal immigrants out of "the shadows," allowing them to report crimes without fear of arrest and to set up bank accounts in order to avoid being targeted for robbery. These are certainly valid concerns, but they overlook the issues at the heart of the matter. This permanent underclass of laborers would not exist were it not for the unaddressed social and economic problems in their countries of origin, the perpetuation of cheap labor by transnational corporations and small businesses alike, and the inability and in some cases unwillingness of the U.S. government to control the nation's borders or enforce its laws.
While Ammiano and those in his camp undoubtedly believe they're helping illegal immigrants by facilitating their continued presence in this country, what they're perpetuating is an exploitive situation with no end in sight.
Ammiano also cites the stalled federal immigration reform of the past few years as a prime reason for having introduced the ID proposal. What Ammiano does not mention is that the reason so-called comprehensive immigration reform failed was the overwhelming opposition of the American public. Politicians who supported immigration reform, much of which effectively provided amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, found themselves deluged with angry e-mails and phone calls from constituents. President Bush's efforts to spearhead similar policies have met the same resistance. But clearly, none of this has hit home in San Francisco, which is a nation unto itself.
San Francisco has long touted itself as a "sanctuary city" or one that refuses to apply federal immigration laws. According to the city's sanctuary ordinance, San Francisco police officers are forbidden by law from inquiring about the immigration status of a suspect — this despite the fact that a sizable number of repeat offenders are illegal immigrants who use such loopholes to their advantage. Furthermore, city employees are also prohibited from asking about immigration status, thereby potentially rendering city services available to non-citizens. In addition, neither municipal funds nor employees can be directed towards assisting federal immigration enforcement.
But San Francisco is not alone in adopting policies that contradict federal immigration laws. In fact, the inspiration for the municipal ID proposal came from New Haven, Conn., where officials put into place a similar program in July. Expecting to hand out 5,000 cards in the first year, the city has already issued over 4,500 cards. With this in mind, it's doubtful that the initial $236,000 grant to fund the program will last long, making the program's long term prospects rather tenuous.
Cost may also be a factor in the San Francisco ID program. It was certainly Supervisor Sean Elsbernd's reason for being the lone dissenter on supporting the measure. Noting the abundance of services already provided by the city, as well as ongoing budget challenges, Elsbernd balked at the County Clerk's estimate of up to $2.86 million in the first three years. Ammiano estimated the cost of the first year at only $500,000, but he may not have taken into account the staff that will inevitably be required to man the program. Despite the per card charge of $15 for adults and $5 for children, it's more than likely that taxpayers will find themselves footing the bill for the remainder of the costs.
While officials claim the ID cards will not serve as driver's licenses, skeptics see them as a slippery slope leading in that direction. The movement toward granting illegal immigrants driver's licenses has certainly been picking up steam over the last decade or so. Beyond the legitimization that comes with the territory, what most worries those concerned with the larger issues at stake is the potential ability of illegal immigrants to register to vote.
There has been speculation that Spitzer's plan, as well as other similar proposals in New York City and Miami, are stealth means of affording illegal immigrants the right to vote just in time for the 2008 presidential election. This may explain why labor unions, which are overwhelmingly pro-Democratic, have either remained silent on the issue or, in the case of San Francisco, lobbied for it. One would think that unions would be wary of granting greater powers to a labor force that brings down wages for all Americans, but it seems they have their own political interests at heart, not to mention shrinking membership ranks to fill.
Politicians from both political parties have attempted to curry favor with the illegal immigration lobby, no doubt in the hopes that this sizable population (12 million, at last count) will provide a voter base in the not too distant future. But the Democratic Party has moved quickly to implement the actual means of obtaining that vote. In fact, all but one of Hillary Clinton's six opponents at the Democratic debate support states issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Never mind the continued resistance of 77 percent of the country, for whom citizenship is still considered a prerequisite to such privileges.
It was Democratic then-Gov. Gray Davis' signing of just such legislation in 2003 that accounted, in part, for the victory of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in the recall election that followed. After assuming the governorship, Schwarzenegger, along with the state legislature, repealed the law, but since then, he has had to veto the same law several times, due to repeated efforts by its author, State Sen. Gil Cedillo to reintroduce the bill. Cedillo, who has introduced the legislation nine times, apparently refuses to take no for an answer.
That Cedillo was the general manager of the Service Employees International Union from 1990-1996 might just have something to do with his apparent tunnel vision. SEIU, which, incidentally, endorsed Cedillo's run for state senator, has been highly active in pushing for further benefits for illegal immigrants, including amnesty. And as it happens, SEIU is also endorsing Supervisor Ammiano's current run for State Assembly.
The illegal immigration lobby is a tangled web, with membership coming from all across the political spectrum. But it is primarily left-of-center cities such as San Francisco that are leading the way in bestowing upon illegal immigrants all the rights and benefits of citizenship. If they succeed, those seeking to pursue a legal path to citizenship will have no impetus for continuing to do so. For such programs only serve to render American citizenship meaningless.
Then again, perhaps that's the idea.
Cinnamon Stillwell is a San Francisco writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also writes for the blog at campus-watch.org.