Through Municipal ID Card Initiatives, Cities Work to Document the Undocumented | CLINIC

Through Municipal ID Card Initiatives, Cities Work to Document the Undocumented

By Jen Riddle and Kassandra Haynes

Many states and localities are considering and enacting laws and policies that welcome undocumented individuals and enhance their ability to live, work, and participate as contributing members of society. Eleven states have passed laws granting driver’s licenses or privileges to all residents, regardless of immigration status.  Not only has the issuance of driver’s licenses permitted undocumented residents of these states to travel safely and legally to work and school, it has provided them with a form of identification. Cities are also recognizing that the ability to identify oneself is critical to civic participation. Specifically, New Haven (Connecticut), Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and Richmond (California), Washington D.C.,  and Asbury Park and Mercer County (New Jersey) now offer municipal identification cards to all city residents. The municipal ID program recently approved by the New York City Council will launch in early 2015 and could benefit as many as 500,000 undocumented immigrants as well as other vulnerable New Yorkers.

ID cards typically display the photo and address of the cardholder and will empower residents to report crimes to the police.  They will enable individuals establish their identity to emergency medical responders. With the cards, individuals may also gain access to essential services such as opening bank accounts, obtaining loans, renting apartments, filling prescriptions, and picking up children from school. Click here for a list of ways in which ID cards would enhance individuals’ daily lives. While municipal ID cards are available to all who can establish residency, they are especially valuable to vulnerable residents – not only undocumented immigrants, but also victims of domestic violence and natural disasters, the homeless, low-income senior citizens, and the formerly incarcerated. 

Advocates are campaigning for municipal ID programs in a number of other cities around the country, including Boston, Philadelphia, Iowa City, Tucson, and Phoenix.  Such proposals are an important step toward embracing and protecting all city residents and affirming their dignity as human beings. CLINIC has prepared talking points on why municipal ID cards are fundamentally fair, make our communities safer, promote community inclusiveness, and further Catholic social teaching.


This summary was prepared in June 2014 with assistance from Legal Fellow Kassandra Haynes.  It is intended for informational purposes, not as legal advice. For advocacy strategy assistance, customized legal analysis, or the development of resources specific to your city or campaign, please contact State and Local Advocacy Attorney Jen Riddle at (301) 565-4807 or