Detroit unveils plans for municipal ID program

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — City leaders want to issue municipal ID cards to residents — such as the homeless, senior citizens and immigrants — who may otherwise be reluctant or ineligible to apply for a state ID, but need identification to get services.

City Council members Raquel Castaneda-Lopez and Mary Sheffield, in partnership with the city’s immigration task force and other community organizations, are working to craft the program that they hope will be rolled out within six to nine months. The impetus evolved from barriers that immigrants face, but advocates say a local ID also would benefit other demographic groups.

“We recognize that vulnerable communities and members of the public often face multiple barriers in securing IDs and being able to participate,” Castaneda-Lopez said Friday.

“The city of Detroit Municipal ID Program would afford these populations a basic human right of recognition as well as provide access to valuable city services, safety and allow them to participate in our community as a whole.”

Officials believe about 30 percent of Detroit’s population could benefit from the city-issued cards designed to provide users with greater access to recreation departments, library cards, bank accounts and other “quality of life” services.

Sheffield said a municipal ID won’t provide benefits over a state ID card, but the requirements tied to obtaining one would be easier for some.

While specific qualifying requirements for Detroit’s ID program are still being determined, applicants would not be required to prove citizenship. It would be open to documented and undocumented citizens, Castaneda-Lopez said, as well as people who don’t have a permanent residence.

Detroit has designated itself a “sanctuary city, ” prohibiting Detroit Police and city employees from asking about residents’ immigration status unless it’s related to a crime. The 2007 law was passed in part based on residents’ fear of applying for city programs based on immigration status.

Applicants for state ID cards must visit a Secretary of State office; present proof of a valid Social Security number or a letter of ineligibility from the Social Security Administration; proof of identity, U.S. citizenship or legal presence; and residency.

Castaneda-Lopez noted that almost 18 percent of citizens older than 65 lack an appropriate ID or proper documentation to secure one.

In addition, officials say, more than 25 percent of African Americans struggle to get IDs and 11 percent of the general public — or 34 million individuals — lack a birth certificate or ID credentials.

Sheffield, who heads the Detroit City Council’s task force on homelessness, said identification issues are a major hurdle for the homeless in securing assistance.

In 2014, Detroit’s homeless population was pegged at 15,717. Of those, 3,330 were chronically homeless. Many, she added, lack proper government ID or the resources to prove identity.

“That leaves the homeless cut off from vital city services to improve their quality of life,” she said. “This will allow them to take place in activities that many of us take for granted...”

The program, Sheffield said, would allow homeless people to obtain the cards free. Others would have to pay a fee, but the amount hasn’t been determined. Costs are expected to be waived for low-income individuals.

State ID cards and renewals after four years are $10, but are free for seniors 65 and older, as well as for blind people.

State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, joined Detroit officials in the announcement, said more work is needed at the state level, but Detroit’s program is a positive step.

“We want every resident of our city to feel welcome or safe here regardless of immigration status or homeless status,” Chang said.

New Haven, Connecticut, was the first city in the country to establish a municipal ID program. Similar programs are offered in San Francisco and in New York, where an effort rolled out last year has issued more than 400,000 cards.

Washtenaw County implemented a local ID program in June.

Keta Cowan of the Washtenaw County ID Task Force said the ID program launched there June 1. So far, the clerk has issued more than 800 ID cards, she said.

The county uses a point-based system to determine eligibility based on identifying credentials including court documents, social security cards, tax returns, school transcripts, employment verification and bank records.