Detroit offers IDs regardless of immigration status

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, who spearheaded the legislation and was the first recipient of the ID, shows off her card at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on Wednesday.

Detroit — The city is now issuing identification cards to give residents access to critical services they may be unable to otherwise obtain.

The “Detroit ID” is available for Detroiters ages 14 and older, regardless of immigration or housing status, criminal record or gender identification. The card, officials say, will assist those who hold it in opening bank accounts, visiting cultural institutions and libraries as well as obtaining shopping and dining discounts at more than 100 businesses across the city.

“We’re trying to build a city where everybody is included, where everybody is valued and everybody can access the basic services of the city in a way that doesn’t cause them stress,” Mayor Mike Duggan said during a Wednesday news conference at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

“For most of us that have driver’s licenses, we don’t know what the experience is not to have ID and how hard everyday life can be.”

The city hopes to issue 35,000 of the IDs within the first two years of the program. The cards won’t replace a driver’s license or state ID, but will be recognized by various city departments and agencies, including the city’s land bank, health, police and water departments.

Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez said she spearheaded the program to address the needs of the community. On Wednesday, she became the first resident to receive one.

“This is really about the government removing barriers to make sure that we truly are serving the most marginalized community and people in the city of Detroit. It really is about seeing each other as human beings and honoring our dignity as human beings,” she said. “Our job as a local municipality is to make sure that we’re doing what we can to protect and improve the quality of life for everyone in the city of Detroit.”

Detroit launches its program two days after two Republican politicians sued to stop New York City from destroying personal records related to its immigrant-friendly ID cards, a move the city has been considering to prevent the data from becoming a deportation tool for a new Republican federal administration.

The suit was filed by two state Assembly members in New York ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline for the city to decide whether to delete copies of the passports, birth certificates and other documents submitted by more than 900,000 card holders.

The date was built into the program from its 2014 start, partly out of concern about the possible election of a Republican president such as President-elect Donald Trump, whose campaign promises included deporting millions of people in the U.S. illegally.

Detroit’s program, which closely mirrors New York’s, also has a two-year retention schedule for identifying documents used to obtain the cards.

A mock up of Detroit's new municipal ID card for residents who may be reluctant or ineligible to apply for a state identification card but want access to services.

Under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act law, the city will only disclose the name and ZIP code of each applicant, a policy in line with how it manages other public document requests, said Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff.

“We believe we have a strong program that will both allow us to follow the law and maintain the privacy of the people who apply,” she said Wednesday.

Detroit is also designated as a “sanctuary city,” prohibiting Detroit police and city employees from asking about residents’ immigration status unless it’s related to a crime.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig on Wednesday said his department “fully embraces” the program he believes will improve relations between officers and the community.

“When you talk about the immigrant community, returning citizens, having the ability to have ID, there’s a greater likelihood they are going to call us,” he said. “When you talk about reducing violent crime in the city of Detroit, certainly our work continues. But we can’t do it without everyone in the city.”

Bertha Palacios, 27, came to Detroit from Mexico at age 9. An undocumented citizen, Palacios said she regularly faces discrimination and has been turned away from medical care over her lack of identification. Having access to the ID, she said, is something she never expected.

“I feel excited, happy,” said Palacios, who plans to go apply for a card this week.

Residents can apply for cards at intake centers within the Samartian Center on the city’s east side and Patton Park Recreation Center in southwest Detroit. Both will be open from 1-7 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. Four mobile sites will be in neighborhoods early next year, officials said.

Each card will display the card holder’s name and photograph, address, date of birth, signature, identification card number and an expiration date. The cost is $25 for adults and $10 for youth and seniors. Discounted rates are also available for individuals unable to afford them.

To obtain the card, individuals must establish proof of identity and residency. Suitable documents include foreign or U.S. passports, state, veteran or employee ID cards and visas, homeless database information, educational institutions, state prisoner information cards, Social Service agency identification or bank records.

To verify residency, applicants can provide utility or credit card statements, unexpired housing lease or rental agreements, vehicle titles, insurance policies, letters from religious, social service or domestic violence groups, and medical records.

The program, modeled after a similar effort in Washtenaw County, will be administered by the Immigrant Affairs Office.

Appointments can be made on the city’s website, or by calling (800) 408-1599.

The Associated Press contributed