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L.A. Moves to Give Undocumented, Homeless Bank IDs

A City Council committee on Tuesday advanced a plan, championed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to create a Los Angeles city photo-identification card that would help undocumented immigrants, the homeless and people with damaged credit access banking services.

The plan was approved by the City Council’s Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee on a 3-0 vote with little opposition.

The plan envisions the creation of a Universal City Services Card that would combine a library card with a debit card function and would act as a photo ID, though it would be up to law enforcement agencies to decide whether to recognize the IDs.

“The federal government has failed to develop significant reform on the immigration front . For the life of me, I don’t understand why we wouldn’t want to know who these people are,” said Councilman Richard Alarcon, who is shepherding the plan through the City Council.

“We cannot deny the fact that businesses are hiring these people,” he said. “Not all of them are unemployed. Most people use their services, whether it be childcare, as maids, as gardeners or construction workers. … that’s the reality of today’s Los Angeles, and we cannot wait for the federal government to implement significant reform on that front. We have to act as a city.”

The committee’s approval sends the plan to the full City Council, which will take it up in about three weeks, according to Alarcon’s office.

The committee also agreed to put out a request for proposals for an outside agency to manage the card program and work with banks. Alarcon also added a request for the Library Department to report back on creating financial literacy programs for card users, saying that a central purpose of the card is financial empowerment for users.

A handful of cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, issue identification cards to anyone who can prove residency, regardless of immigration status.

Critics say Villaraigosa’s proposal is the latest indication that L.A. leaders support undocumented immigrants.

“It is clearly an accommodation,’ Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group critical of illegal immigration, told The Los Angeles Times. “Los Angeles is making it easier for people who have violated federal immigration laws to live in the city.”

The plan’s supporters say it could reduce crime because fewer people would have to carry cash, and would reduce the reliance of immigrants on storefront financial services businesses that gouge them.

Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck announced this month that hundreds of undocumented immigrants arrested by his officers each year for low-level crimes would no longer be turned over to federal authorities for deportation. And in February, officers were given new guidelines allowing greater discretion when deciding whether to impound cars of unlicensed drivers, including those of illegal immigrants.

When undocumented residents aren’t afraid to approach officers to report crime or act as witnesses, the city’s streets are safer, Beck said.

A number of critics have said that the city is making it too easy for undocumented immigrants who they claim take jobs away from US born citizens

Mehlman told The Times that if Los Angeles wants to reduce problems associated with undocumented residents it should make life harder, not easier, for them, as Arizona has done.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles praised the committee’s decision to move the plan forward.

“We strongly support a city-sponsored, photo identification card because it increases confidence amongst those who carry it, and especially for aspiring citizens, provides a greater sense of ownership, legitimacy and worth in their community,” CHIRLA Executive Director Angelica Salas said.