Elorza enacts municipal ID program for Providence

Program created via executive order after City Council approval in June, cards to be issued in 2018

Contributing Writer
Thursday, November 9, 2017

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza signed an executive order to create a municipal ID program for the city Nov. 2. The program will draw upon the best practices of municipal ID programs implemented in other cities, including Washington D.C., New York City and Hartford, CT, said Victor Morente, the mayor’s press secretary. Morente expects the city to begin issuing ID cards in early 2018.

Elorza intends to make IDs available to all residents of Providence, including undocumented immigrants, Morente said. Other municipalities require ID card applicants to present a government-issued form of identification, such as a birth certificate or a passport, as well as a document that proves their residence within the city, such as an electrical bill, but do not require any documents pertaining to citizenship. By adopting the same requirements, Providence’s municipal ID program would allow immigrants to obtain ID cards and access city services regardless of their status in the U.S, he said.

But if the city maintains a database of municipal ID cardholders, immigrants who hold cards may risk becoming targets of the Department of Homeland Security, said Marcela Betancur, the policy associate for the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island.  The ACLU has voiced concerns that “if only undocumented people get (municipal IDs), then it’s going to be a very easy way to target that community.” To mitigate this risk, Betancur emphasized the importance of providing incentives to encourage other Providence residents to get municipal IDs and ensuring that the private information of ID cardholders “is not stored or shared with anyone.”

Morente said that the risk of storing ID cardholder data “is a concern we’ve heard and a concern we’ll keep in mind moving forward.” But he stressed that “this identification card is not just for immigrants,” emphasizing that the mayor will work to ensure that the ID program is “welcoming and accessible to all members of the community and not just the undocumented community.”

The executive order will benefit a variety of non-immigrant groups who tend to have trouble accessing suitable forms of identification, including “students, the homeless and members of the LGBTQ community,” Elorza said in a statement.

Morente listed a number of potential benefits the IDs may bring to these groups. For example: high school students in Providence may be able to use their IDs as RIPTA bus passes, gender non-binary residents will not need to select a gender for their ID cards and the homeless will be able to use their IDs to more easily access city services. He added that Elorza hopes to implement more generic ID card benefits, such as library card and debit card functions, to encourage more people to obtain a municipal ID.

Providence should consider drawing from the municipal ID programs of other cities to implement additional perks for ID cardholders, Bentacur said. She pointed to New York City’s IDNYC program, which gives ID cardholders discounts at some businesses and free entry to spaces such as museums.

City Councilman  Luis Aponte said that there is “generally support for the idea” of municipal IDs among other council members, who approved a budget line item allocating $150,000 from the general fund to create the program in their June budget. But Aponte expressed some reservations about the implementation of the new program. He said the mayor’s office has focused primarily on what the ID cards “could and should do,” but he feels that “not enough emphasis was placed on what (ID cards) can’t do.”

“All the limitations and expectations of the program should be explained thoroughly to people when they apply” for an ID card, Aponte said. ID cardholders should know that a Providence ID is unlikely to be accepted in other municipalities and that a municipal ID card cannot completely replace state-issued forms of identification, he said.

Aponte does not believe that his constituents in the Washington Park and Lower South Providence communities will be interested in obtaining municipal ID cards. “Out of many phone calls that I get from my constituents, … I have not gotten a phone call in almost 19 years asking for some form of municipal ID,” he said. “Unless there are incentives that you could not obtain otherwise, I’m not sure folks would view (municipal IDs) as something that would replace or augment what they have already in terms of identification,” he added.

“My hope is that (the municipal ID card) is accepted and used, that there is a demand for the ID and that then we can start to evolve the idea of additional benefits working with private sector and nonprofit partners,” Aponte said.

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