Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, seen here in September addressing the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., has a plan to issue photo identification cards to immigrants in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo : Reuters)
Millions of immigrants living in Los Angeles, Calif., could soon be issued photo identification cards that would grant them access to ATMs for their private bank accounts.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's recent proposal would initiate an official city photo ID program where immigrants would be issued photo identification cards that double as prepaid ATM cards for their bank accounts-a plan he said is similar to programs instituted in Oakland and San Francisco, the mayor told the Los Angeles Times, who broke the story.
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According to Villaraigosa, the idea for the program came originally from his office as part of previous efforts to help immigrants open bank accounts in order to protect them from being targeted by muggers.
While City Councilman Richard Alarcon introduced a more limited proposal involving the creation of a new library card-which could also serve as a debit card-Villaraigosa told the Times that he wants to go farther and have the city begin offering full-fledged photo IDs.
"It will be an official ID," Villaraigosa said in a recent interview with the Times. "It will be as strong an effort as San Francisco's."
Roughly 4.3 million immigrants are estimated to be living in Los Angeles, the Washington Post reported via the Associated Press.
Alexandra Suh, executive director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, told the LA Times that her immigrant rights organizations strongly supported the mayor's photo ID card plan.
"An ID that recognizes residents as Angelenos with access to all city agencies would be a great benefit for all of us," she said. "Things like the ability to check out a library book, to access health services, to enroll our kids in school, why should this depend on immigration status?"
However, opponents on the opposite side of the argument disagree with Villaraigosa's idea, arguing that the plan would only be seen as city leaders giving an endorsement to undocumented immigrants living in the city illegally.
"It is clearly an accommodation," said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which opposes illegal immigration. "Los Angeles is making it easier for people who have violated federal immigration laws to live in the city."
According to the Times, Mayor Villaraigosa said that applicants for the cards would have to meet "strict"criteria, although the details were not disclosed as to what that criteria entailed. However, the mayor's office disclosed to the Times, law enforcement agencies could choose whether to recognize the card, and it could not serve as a substitute for a valid driver's license.
The program-which would be run by an unspecified vendor-would charge applicants between $10 and $20 to obtain a card, and a few dollars a month for the debit service, which would be optional, officials said to the Times. Details of how residents would obtain the cards are not available, to date.
Earlier this month, the LA Times reported, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said that low-level offenders would no longer be turned over to federal authorities for possible deportation. Beck has previously called for allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver's licenses, and he implemented a policy making it harder for police to impound the vehicles of people caught driving without a license - many of whom are illegal immigrants.