Monday, July 23, 2007

A card for everyone

By Vivek Krishnamurthy

Sometimes the name really does say it all. Today, my temporary home town of New Haven, Connecticut became the first city in America to make identity cards available to all its residents -- regardless of their age or immigration status.

Upon the presentation of two pieces of identification, the City of New Haven will issue residents with a photo identity card that allows them to access all of the city's services. With some luck, the card may come to be accepted by other community institutions as sufficient proof of identity to open a bank account or obtain a business license. New Haven requires applicants to present the same sort of documentation as the federal government requires for the issue of a Social Security card, so there's no reason to think that naughty people will be able to lay hands more easily on the "Elm City Resident Card" than any other piece of ID.

New Haven's move is particularly welcome given recent attempts by municipalities from Suffolk County, New York to Prince William County, Virginia to pass draconian anti-immigrant ordinances in municipalities. Such measures, which seek to deny immigrants access to education, health care, and even policing services, are precisely the wrong way to deal with America's immigration quagmire. Far from convincing them to go home, attempts to exclude and marginalize illegal immigrants will only succeed in making our communities less healthy (by isolating immigrant communities from public health measures) and less safe (by giving criminals impunity to attack illegal migrants, who may not report crimes out of fear of being deported). Indeed, one of the main reasons why New Haven is issuing the cards is so that illegal immigrants will feel comfortable in approaching the authorities for help, which makes eminent sense to me.

If you happen to live in New Haven, I'd urge you to apply for an Elm City Resident Card, and to use it wherever you can. Not only is it a great way of supporting this initiative, but the more people who possess the card, the less likely its holders are to be stigmatized as illegal immigrants. And if you don't have the good fortune to live in the city that serves up America's finest pizza, get out there and urge your local government to adopt a similar measure.

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