A new plan by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to give immigrants, regardless of status, an official city ID card won a big vote on Tuesday when members of a City Council committee agreed to begin soliciting bids for a third party vendor to handle the program.
Under the mayor's proposal, Los Angeles would create an official city photo identification card for undocumented immigrants that could also be used as a prepaid ATM card for their private bank account.
Councilman Ed Reyes told the Los Angeles Times that the so-called City Services Card is controversial because it touches on illegal immigration but that ultimately "cooler heads will prevail" and that it's "about time" L.A. residents, regardless of immigration status have the ability to open bank accounts and have access to city services.
The committee voted unanimously to ask the full council to approve the proposal, and was the first step in a process to create the ID card system.
Villaraigosa says his plan is similar to programs in San Francisco and Oakland, where ID cards are issued to anyone who can prove residency, regardless of immigration status, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"It will be an official ID," Villaraigosa told the newspaper. "It will be as strong an effort as San Francisco's."
An estimated 4.3 million immigrants live in LA.
Supporters say helping immigrants open bank accounts could reduce crime because fewer people would have to carry cash. An official city ID would also make it easier for many residents to obtain city services and identify themselves to law enforcement officials, they argue.
But critics say the plan is an accommodation to immigrants who are in the country illegally.
"Los Angeles is making it easier for people who have violated federal immigration laws to live in the city," said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group critical of illegal immigration.
A City Council committee will discuss the ID card proposal on Tuesday, the Times said.
Card applicants would have to meet "strict" criteria, the mayor's office told the newspaper. The card, which officials say would look like a student ID, would include a photo, street address, date of birth, hair and eye color, height and weight. Law enforcement agencies could choose whether to recognize the card, and it would not substitute for a driver's license, the mayor's office said.
The city would hire an outside vendor who would charge applicants between $10 and $20 to obtain a card, and a few dollars a month for the debit service, which would be optional, the Times said.
Thousands of poor and elderly legal residents who don't have a driver's license or other identification would benefit from the program, the mayor's office told the newspaper.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.