Two years after reaffirming Oakland's status as a "sanctuary city," the City Council voted this week to create identification cards for illegal immigrants.
The city's program will be modeled after a similar one in San Francisco, which started giving out cards to illegal immigrants earlier this year.
Council members said the cards will give illegal immigrants easier access to city and business services, improve their civic participation and encourage them to report crimes to police. City leaders also anticipate that the cards will prompt more illegal immigrants to open bank accounts rather than keeping their earnings in cash and becoming targets for robbers.
"It makes sense to provide a municipal ID that would allow people to participate, allow people not to be afraid to provide information about crimes," said Vice Mayor Ignacio De La Fuente.
The council approved the plan Tuesday and now will decide on the specifics, such as how to produce the cards, how much to charge for them and how to ensure that they will be safe from counterfeiting. The photo IDs will be available to anyone within city limits who needs identification, including youths and the homeless. They will not be a substitute for driver's licenses and will not provide any protection from deportation by federal immigration authorities.
Though the cards haven't prompted much opposition in the Bay Area, the matter of government-issued identification cards for illegal immigrants is controversial nationwide. New Haven, Conn., is believed to be the only city outside of California to distribute such identification cards.
"The problem is you have cities who are aiding and abetting people who are violating federal immigration laws," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "It sends a message that what they are doing is OK."
Mehlman added that cities statewide are already facing extreme budget problems and limited services. "This is exacerbating an already bad situation in California," he said.
But De La Fuente said he views the issue in a practical way. "To me it's not an immigration debate," De La Fuente said. "These people are here and I have to deal with them."
Oakland is considering creating multipurpose ID cards, which could also be used as debit cards, bus passes and library cards. The city is also hoping that cardholders could receive discounts at certain businesses.
In 2007, the City Council adopted a sanctuary city resolution calling for a moratorium on immigration raids and for the passage of fair and humane federal immigration laws. It also declared the city a refuge for immigrants from all countries. The city had earlier passed a resolution that Oakland was a refuge for those from Haiti, South Africa, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Jesse Newmark, a staff attorney with Centro Legal de la Raza, said he was pleased with the council's most recent action, adding that the ID card is "tangible confirmation of Oakland's sanctuary status."
Newmark, who was part of a coalition that started pushing for the cards last year, said he often sees clients who don't report crimes or labor or housing violations because they don't have identification and fear the consequences for being in the United States illegally. The cards will promote public safety citywide, he said.
"It doesn't just hurt these communities when these things don't get reported," he said. "It hurts everybody."