An ID For The Undocumented: Phoenix Municipal IDs Close To Becoming Reality

By Carrie Jung
Published: Tuesday, August 30, 2016 - 6:51am
Updated: Wednesday, August 31, 2016 - 2:08pm
Audio icon Download mp3 (5.43 MB)
(Photo by Carrie Jung - KJZZ)
When Eduardo isn't working he can usually be found working in this screen printing studio in west Phoenix.
(Photo courtesy of ONE PHX Facebook)
ONE PHX ID is the coallition behind the city of Phoenix ID card which will incorporate access to bus and light rail, libraries, community centers

When Eduardo isn’t working, chances are good you’ll find him doing something creative.

"So this is the space here. This is a shirt press here and those are the poster presses," the 24-year-old points out while walking around the screen printing studio that's almost like a second home.

While Eduardo does have a day job in retail, his design work brings in the occasional paycheck too. But actually cashing those checks is a challenge. He often runs into this scenario at the bank:

"At the bank they were asking for a state ID, which I didn’t have and they wouldn’t take my school ID," he recalls.

You see, Eduardo is undocumented, which is why KJZZ is not using his full name. He was brought to Phoenix as a baby by his grandparents. So though he doesn't know any home other than Arizona, he still can’t qualify for that state-issued ID the bank was demanding. Meaning he often has to go to a local liquor store that cashes checks.

"Sometimes it’s a little sketchy," he says, "it feels like I’m in purgatory"

Not having an ID impacts more than just his finances. Most landlords require a state ID to rent an apartment. And for parents in Eduardo’s position, not having an ID can mean they’re not allowed inside their child’s school for things like parent-teacher conferences.

"Community members asked if we could do a state ID and looking at the political makeup of the state we were like, 'No we can’t do that right now,'" says Viridiana Hernandez, executive director for the Center for Neighborhood Leadership— one of several organizations supporting the development of a municipal ID. The coalition, known as ONE PHX ID, introduced a more local idea to Phoenix City Council more than two years ago. They say other groups that also have trouble obtaining state IDs like the homeless and the elderly could benefit too.

"If this ID card will not be actually respected by everyone in the city, including the Phoenix [Police Department], then it would be useless, because one of the biggest factors has been people not calling the police and not calling to report crime because they’re scared. Because the first question is let me see your ID," Hernandez says of some of the fears associated with being undocumented.

The city also hopes to integrate the card with services like the library and light rail. And organizers are working to get museums and other cultural locations to offer discounts for card holders. The vote Wednesday will formalize an agreement between the city and independent contractor SF Global, which will run the program. The measure has strong support, but there are some vocal opponents too, including councilman Jim Waring.

"We’re spending a lot of taxpayer time and money. Again, it’s a serious problem, but this card is going to do absolutely nothing to solve it," Waring says. "And in a state that has high rates of identity theft, should we really be throwing out a card with the City of Phoenix logo?"

The One Phoenix ID coalition insists the card will be cost neutral...paid for with card fees. Local nonprofit groups have also pledged man hours to help with administrative operations. But Waring isn’t buying it.

"This is a federal government issue," he says. "The City of Phoenix city council is not the group that really should be addressing it. I understand political pressure is driving this."

Municipal ID programs are already up and running in other large cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. In New York, where more than 863,000 people have one, about half say it’s their primary form of ID and they’ve used it for a variety of reasons, including getting into a museum, for instance.

Still, the city has run into some roadblocks. Many major banks don’t accept them. But thousands have reported that they’ve successfully opened a bank account using the ID.

The measure still faces challenges from Arizona lawmakers like State Senator John Kavanagh. He introduced a bill earlier this year that would have blocked a city or town’s ability to establish a local ID card. He says identity theft is his main concern but "I also don’t believe that people who are in the country illegally should be assisted in circumventing the laws."

It failed in the Senate by one vote. But Kavanagh says there’s always next session.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been modified to reflect the correct spelling of Jim Waring's name.

If you like this story, Donate Now!