President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Wednesday
criticized Arizona's law that makes failure to carry immigration
documents a crime. But a growing number of cities around the country are
taking a different approach: They are issuing identification cards (ID)
to illegal immigrants. Government-issued ID is necessary to cash
checks, pick up packages from mail centers or access clinics, doctor's
offices, recreation centers or pools.
In New Jersey, Trenton and Princeton are among the latest cities
endorsing a community-issued ID card. Bill Wakefield is with the group
that spearheaded the ID card program there.
"It doesn't allow them to do many of the things that a passport or a
state-issued drivers license would do. In other words, they can't get on
an airplane. But they can go to the local library and check out a
Some immigration reform advocates strongly oppose the ID cards, saying
the communities endorsing them are hampering the enforcement of U.S.
Three years ago, New Haven, Conn., became the first city to approve
community ID cards, amid considerable controversy. Now, Mayor John
DeStefano says it has been a success and is no longer generating any
"Different communities approach immigration issues differently. We see
one approach in Arizona. Other communities, such as New Haven, have
approached it a different way. The bottom line to me is that the
greatest periods of growth in America are when we've had robust
In Asbury Park, N.J., which is about 1 mile square, about 250 cards have
been issued since 2008. That city's Latino liaison, Eve Sanchez Silver,
says the card is especially useful when emergency workers respond to
someone ill or injured.
"If they find a card and it says 'Oaxaca, Mexico,' it's not much help in
letting you know where that individual should be now, where that
person's family is. So having this community ID card really has been a
In Arizona, the failure to carry immigration documents has been made a
crime. Community ID cards, in contrast, are being used elsewhere to make
life easier for illegal immigrants - who fill many jobs some Americans
won't take, Wakefield points out.