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Austin Could Create a Municipal ID Program

Daniel Reese/KUT
Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole says the municipally issued identification cards would allow undocumented immigrants to report crimes without fear of deportation.

Today, the Austin City Council could decide whether or not to move forward on municipal identification cards – cards which would allow undocumented immigrants to identify themselves without the fear of deportation.

Theitem on the council's agenda (PDF) would permit the city manager to conduct a study of the ID program to be delivered to council later this year.

The resolution being heard today wouldn't create a card. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole says she just wants the city manager to study the idea. But she hopes that study will generate a list of best practices that Austin could use in creating its own ID.

She says the card could have many different uses, but a key intention would be to help the 19 percent of Austinites that don't have any ID or any way to procure one.

"Many of which operate under the threat of deportation without criminal offense,” Cole says. “And having the lack of a government issued ID can be a deterrent to reporting crimes of public safety."

Critics say these types of IDs say they don't help undocumented immigrants, but rather that they encourage more illegal immigration. Gary Freeman, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin, says a city ID could encourage illegal immigration to Austin.

"You've got people like Ms. Cole and many of the citizens of Austin who are of liberal political bent, but more than that are sympathetic for cultural and personal reasons with Latin American migrants,” Freeman says. “And [they] are willing to adopt policies that undermine the Federal government's ability to enforce its laws."

Creating a city issued ID card is a fairly new idea. The first one in the U.S. was issued in 2007 in New Haven, Connecticut. John DeStefano was the town’s mayor when the program was approved. He says while some critics may focus on the card's use by undocumented immigrants, it's something that legal residents can benefit from as well.

"Certainly it's been used by undocumented residents to demonstrate who they are,” DeStefano admits. “But it's been also used in our public schools as student identification. It's been used as means to open bank accounts for both documented and undocumented residents. And [as] a way to obtain identification that's much cheaper than a Connecticut driver’s license."

The city council will take up a resolution today that would direct the city manager to study municipal IDs and report back with ideas for how Austin could create its own card. That report would be due in December.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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