ID cards for undocumented immigrants and homeless gain favor, despite some opposition

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It was a close call, but Palm Beach became the latest county to approve a program that will provide identification cards for undocumented immigrants and the homeless.

On Tuesday, Palm Beach County approved $75,000 in funding for a community ID program that is run by the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, which provides legal services for disadvantaged residents.

Supporters say this is a necessary provision that will help make it easier for people to perform a variety of tasks, such as picking up prescriptions, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or using basic city services.

But opponents say the cards could lead to fraudulent activity such as identity theft, and nearly derailed the proposal.

Backing for community ID programs was tepid just a few years back, but they have seen a significant uptick in support within the past year. Broward approved a similar program in April, while Miami-Dade did the same in June.

The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County first began the program in 2019, administering 3,000 cards. But last year, they provided only 100, attributing the sharp decline to COVID and a lack of funding.

The cards, which cost $20 and are renewable annually, have the person’s name, address and date of birth. Vanessa Coe, an attorney who helps oversee the program, says they have a rigorous vetting standard, requiring proof of residency and multiple forms of identification, whether it be an expired passport or any other identifying form.

While the cards are becoming more common throughout South Florida, Coe said there was some initial pushback a few years back.

“Certainly on Facebook, people had opinions about it,” Coe said of early feedback on some of their social media posts.

“This is just another program where we heard from the community they needed it and we got into action to deliver that as best as we could. We try not to be motivated or unmotivated by xenophobia, racism and things like that.”

Coe said she emphasizes to recipients that the ID forms are not a substitute for government-issued ID’s and can’t be used as a driver’s license or be used to vote, adding “the private sector has the discretionary ability to accept the card or not. No one is forcing anyone to do it.”

Coe said, however, she’s heard stories of people being able to use the ID cards for everyday tasks like opening banking accounts or being allowed access into gated communities for people who clean homes. Additionally, if someone is arrested for a minor offense, law enforcement can use the ID to issue a notice to appear, rather than arresting and transporting them to jail for not having identification.

“I just think for most people, having the option to pull something like that out of their wallet and say ‘My name is’ and you can look at it. That’s in itself just helpful to get the ball rolling on so many areas in their life,” Coe said.

Not everyone in Palm Beach County is on board with the program, which narrowly passed by a 4-3 vote. County Commissioner Robert Weinroth said he had “real misgivings” about it, adding he believes it’s “ripe for identity theft.”

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“My problem is every time it’s been brought forward, there’s such a blurring of lines of where it will be used and where it won’t be used,” Weinroth said during Tuesday’s meeting.

“It’s a matter of principle. It says it’s not a government-issued ID, granted, but it’s going to be misunderstood by people who are receiving this as ID. It is not for the county to be in a position of funding this. …There are many other sources [who can fund this].”

A Palm Beach Sherriff’s Office colonel, however, said during Tuesday’s meeting he wasn’t aware of any fraudulent issues with the 3,000 cards that have been administered so far.

The organization PEACE — People Engaged in Active Community Efforts — has been pushing for these cards for years. Jill Hanson, a member of PEACE, said these cards are even important during the pandemic, since ID forms are required to receive the vaccine.

“Those people have been here for 15-20 years, they are part of the fabric of our community,” Hanson said. “COVID doesn’t recognize that you’re an immigrant or if you don’t have papers. So, let’s make it easier for them to get vaccines, to get tested.

“If you have any empathy you’ve got to recognize that the pandemic shows we’re all interrelated and what one does affects others.”

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