The El Paso City Council this week unanimously approved a community identification card program helping El Paso residents, including immigrants and other vulnerable communities, that are unable to access a government-issued license or ID. The historic pilot program was approved by an 8-0 vote and is estimated to provide 10,000 licenses in its first year of operation.
Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR), which has spearheaded the “I am El Paso” Community ID Campaign effort for nearly a decade, celebrated the news.
“When we began this campaign, it was clear that the road ahead of us would be challenging,” Executive Director Fernando Garcia said in a statement received by America’s Voice. “The BNHR for almost a decade has mobilized and organized hundreds of community members, collected thousands of signatures, and built a coalition of local organizations, faith-based organizations, businesses, financial and educational institutions, and local leaders. We are proud to report that these efforts have successfully secured a community identification program for the city of El Paso.”
People experiencing homelessness, formerly incarcerated individuals, and undocumented immigrants can struggle to obtain identification cards, barring them from being able to access some services, a feasibility report said this month. “Lack of government issued identification can negatively impact the quality of life for residents, and often disproportionately affects vulnerable populations within our city.”
But through the pilot program, eligible El Paso residents will be able to apply for the new card at a number of local libraries, allowing them to open bank accounts, adopt a pet, purchase certain public transportation passes, and more fully access El Paso Police and Sheriff’s Departments services, just to name a few services. The cards do not confer voting or driving privileges (though a number of states across the nation have opened driver’s licenses to undocumented residents).
The Enhanced Library Card pilot program “will help some of the most vulnerable populations of our community,” District 2 Rep. Alexsandra Annello told El Paso Matters. Annello first introduced the proposal more than five years ago, but hopes were dashed when the measure failed by a single vote. El Paso Times reports that BNHR members “showed up in force” for this week’s meeting, where the IDs passed by a resounding vote.
“It’s heartening to see my hometown of El Paso continue to value the contributions of immigrant families in the city,” Texas-based America’s Voice Campaigns Manager Mario Carrillo said in response to the news. “At a time when the state of Texas continues pushing anti-immigrant bills that will harm our communities, cities across the state must continue showing that there is a different way forward, one that is more welcoming of migrants, much like El Paso has been for families like my own.”
The feasibility report said that similar policies have already been enacted elsewhere in the state and that the El Paso Public Library “is well established in the process of issuing library cards,” issuing hundreds of thousands in the past several years. In Austin, demand for enhanced library cards “has been overwhelming” following implementation in May, KVUE reported. That card similarly benefits unhoused people, recently-arrived immigrants, and other vulnerable communities. Back in El Paso, Deputy City Manager Dionne Mack also offered assurances that personal information submitted by applicants will be protected under state law.
“The BNHR would like to recognize Representative Annello, Representative Hernandez, and City Leadership for their commitment to guaranteeing that all El Pasoans will have an equal opportunity to participate in our booming economic development, community safety, and community integration,” Garcia continued. “We also recognize our allies at KIND, Texas Rising, Raiz Credit Union, Border Agricultural Workers Center, the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, Familias Unidas del Chamizal, La Mujer Obrera, among others.”
Learn about the importance of expanding unaccompanied children’s access to State and Municipal Identification cards and driver’s licenses. https://t.co/FaZmvr91HM
— KIND (@supportKIND) October 25, 2023
“KIND applauds the El Paso City Council for voting to implement the municipal identification program. We thank @border_human for leading on this effort and making it possible for all residents of El Paso to obtain an ID card,” the organization tweeted. “Many of the clients we serve face barriers when obtaining an ID card, making it hard to access services & thrive in their community. This initiative, & others like it, allow some of our most vulnerable members of our community, including unaccompanied children, to access ID cards.”