After pushing to make good on a campaign promise, Mayor Kenney announced this week that the city will soon begin issuing a Philadelphia municipal ID – an official photo identification card to be issued by the city that could be available in January. Philadelphia will join large cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Detroit which already issue municipal IDs.
Navigating life without some form of photo identification is hardly imaginable. But a surprising number of people in the state lack photo ID; this came to light during a debate about the Pennsylvania voter ID law in 2014 that was ultimately struck down by the court. One analysis at the time estimated that more than a half million of the state's 8.5 million registered voters did not have the proper photo ID that would allow them to vote under the new law. Concerns at the time focused on the poor, the elderly, and people of color who are less likely to have an ID — or lack the required supporting documentation for one — and would be thereby disenfranchised at the voting booth.
An ID is necessary to open a bank account, access healthcare services, enroll a child in school, obtain public benefits such as food stamps (SNAP), and at times, to enter a public park or beach.
A municipal ID, which is issued only after a person's identity is verified and residency in the city confirmed, could have less stringent requirements than a state ID and provide a form of identification for people who have no other option.
For the 50,000 undocumented immigrants who live in the city a municipal ID could be a game changer. Being an undocumented immigrant without an ID has its own challenges — and some of them impact us all. For example, an undocumented immigrant might choose not to report a crime or give testimony to the police because his or her ID (a foreign passport) would raise questions about their immigration status, making all of us less safe.
Opponents of municipal ID programs argue that handing IDs to undocumented immigrants will allow them to enroll in welfare programs. While non-citizens could be eligible for benefits such as SNAP or Medicaid, they have to meet specific criteria and prove their immigration status. An ID alone will not be enough.
The program is expected to cost $580,000 in the first year. The city is still working through how to ensure privacy for ID holders. The city should also work to ensure that people who already have official IDs also obtain a municipal card; otherwise the ID will be a tool to profile undocumented immigrants and poor people.