No ID in NC: Undocumented Immigrants and the Identification Problem

The fol­low­ing com­men­tary is re-post­ed from Bioethics Forum, a blog of The Hast­ings Center.

On Octo­ber 28, North Car­oli­na Gov­er­nor Pat McCro­ry signed HB 318, the “Pro­tect North Car­oli­na Work­ers Act.” This new exam­ple of state-lev­el anti-immi­grant leg­is­la­tion, a trend that had been cur­tailed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 deci­sion in Ari­zona v. Unit­ed States, is aimed at restrict­ing local efforts to pro­tect undoc­u­ment­ed and new immi­grants and sup­port their inte­gra­tion into soci­ety. The Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress has ana­lyzed the fore­see­able con­se­quences of this type of leg­is­la­tion: mea­sures that osten­si­bly aim to pro­tect one group of work­ers from anoth­er – to pro­tect “us” from “them” – in fact wind up weak­en­ing local economies.

Under one pro­vi­sion of the new law, North Car­oli­na cities are pro­hib­it­ed from accept­ed non-gov­ern­men­tal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, such as “com­mu­ni­ty IDs.”  ID cards issued or rec­og­nized by cities have been intro­duced in recent years as a workaround for a prob­lem many peo­ple face: the lack of a driver’s license or pass­port as iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. This prob­lem affects undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants because they are pro­hib­it­ed from obtain­ing driver’s licens­es in most states. It also affects peo­ple who do not or can­not dri­ve (due to dis­abil­i­ty, for exam­ple), and peo­ple whose gen­der iden­ti­ty does not cor­re­spond to their birth records.

In New York City, IDNYC– “one card for all of us” – has been a tremen­dous suc­cess with undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants and mid­dle-class par­ents alike, use­ful for every­day inter­ac­tions such as show­ing ID to get into a pub­lic school for a par­ent-teacher con­fer­ence. New York City plans to use IDNYC to facil­i­tate enroll­ment in Direct Access, the city’s new pro­gram to cre­ate a city­wide net­work of pri­ma­ry care med­ical homes for undoc­u­ment­ed unin­sured city res­i­dents. This plan reflects insights from Los Ange­les, San Fran­cis­co, and oth­er cities that have cre­at­ed pro­grams to improve health care access for undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants through the coor­di­na­tion of safe­ty-net ser­vices; ID cards make it eas­i­er for these patients to use the sys­tem, and have the addi­tion­al ben­e­fit of pro­vid­ing a form of identification.

The sign­ing cer­e­mo­ny for HD 318 was held in the city of Greens­boro, which had begun to accept a com­mu­ni­ty ID card cre­at­ed by a local non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion, with sup­port from the local police depart­ment, intend­ed for com­mu­ni­ty res­i­dents with­out access to gov­ern­ment-issued ID.  Under the new state law, which was opposed by Greens­boro city offi­cials, city agen­cies are now pro­hib­it­ed from rec­og­niz­ing the card.

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Nan­cy Berlinger is a research schol­ar at The Hast­ings Cen­ter and the codi­rec­tor of the Undoc­u­ment­ed Patients project.

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