USA Today (Opinion)
By Alan Gomez
October 20, 2015
Not that long ago, part of my morning routine involved catching up on what states around the country were doing that day to crack down on illegal immigration.
That habit started in 2010, when Arizona passed a law empowering state police to enforce immigration laws. One by one, other states started following suit. Utah. Indiana. South Carolina. Alabama wanted to check the immigration status of children enrolling in its public schools. Georgia was so successful driving undocumented immigrants out of the state that it turned to prison labor to harvest its abandoned crops, a plan that quickly failed once the prisoners started walking off the job.
Then, something changed. Those laws started getting struck down in courts. Others states halted their efforts to pass Arizona copycat bills. And before I knew it, I was drinking my morning glass of orange juice while reading through articles about local efforts to make life easier for undocumented immigrants.
The most interesting of those efforts has been a push to provide local identification cards to undocumented immigrants. The idea is simple: A city or county creates a "municipal ID" that those immigrants can use to interact with city officials, identify themselves to police officers and even open bank accounts so they're not easy, cash-carrying targets for would-be robbers. The IDs aren't substitutes for driver's licenses or federally-accepted forms of ID — for example, you can't get through security at an airport or board a flight with one.
The number of places approving those IDs has surged in recent months, with Hartford, Ct., Newark, N.J., Greensboro, N.C., and New York City approving them.
The wave of cities adopting municipal IDs doesn't mean the country has suddenly turned completely immigrant-friendly. Just tune in to the next Republican presidential debate to see how many candidates are proposing mass deportations, cutting down on legal immigration channels and missile-firing drone patrols along the southwest border. Or watch as states try to crack down on sanctuary city policies within their borders.
But what the cities adopting municipal IDs show is that there may be a middle ground in the immigration debate that has been so incredibly polarized in recent years. On the one side, we had states like Arizona passing laws to go after undocumented immigrants. On the other, we had cities and counties like San Francisco adopting "sanctuary city" policies that have allowed some undocumented immigrants with violent, criminal backgrounds to walk free.
The reason we've seen that pendulum swing so wildly in opposite directions is that Congress and the White House have been unable to come together and fix our nation's broken immigration system. That's why millions of undocumented immigrants continue pouring over our southwest border. That's why millions of legal immigrants can stay in the country long past the time their visas have expired. And that's why Americans can continue hiring those undocumented immigrants with little fear of punishment.
What's left is a system that has effectively allowed 11 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the country. And whoever you blame for that, they've been left in a legal limbo that makes life incredibly difficult for them.
Take Rosana Araújo, an Uruguayan who visited Miami on a three-month visa 13 years ago and never went back. Araújo has spent her years here cleaning houses, warehouses, day care centers, whatever she could do to get by. But the 47-year-old said the fact that her only form of identification is her Uruguayan passport has made her life difficult in so many ways.
She can't use a public library. She can't get past the security desk of local hospitals to visit sick relatives or friends. She said she couldn't even return a pair of pants at Walmart because they insisted on a Florida ID card.
Most important, Araújo said she didn't call police after she was sexually assaulted in 2009 because she had heard from other undocumented immigrants who had been victims of sexual violence that they were caught up in immigration proceedings after reporting the crime.
"The first thing they do is ask for your identification. And the passport for them isn't valid," she said. "That makes you far more vulnerable that the police are going to pick you up for not having identification."
Now Araújo is helping several groups push government agencies in Miami-Dade County to adopt the municipal IDs. The Center for Popular Democracy, a group that advocates for immigrant rights, estimates that two dozen other cities, including Phoenix, New Orleans and Milwaukee, are now considering adopting the program
Municipal IDs won't solve our nation's immigration problem. But they just might be the best short-term solution to ensure undocumented immigrants aren't completely helpless as we all wait for Washington to find a solution.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com