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.