Providence moving forward with municipal ID program

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said Tuesday the main beneficiaries of his proposal to create a municipal identification card system may be residents who are in the country illegally, but stressed that the program will also help the homeless, members of the LGBTQ community and young people who haven’t yet obtained their driver’s licenses.

Speaking to about 100 community members at a forum at the South Side Cultural Center, Elorza said the identification cards will allow residents to do business with the city, interact with law enforcement and use the public library. He said the program is designed to bring people together, “especially in the face of so many forces that are pulling us apart as a community.”

“Simply put, the municipal ID cards affirm your residency here in our city regardless of immigration status, housing status or your criminal history,” Elorza told the crowd. The mayor said the cards will not be used as a driver’s license or as a voter ID in statewide elections.

The city budget that took effect July 1 included about $150,000 to fund the program, but the city still needs to issue a request for proposal for vendors that want to make the ID cards. It’s unclear when the cards will be available or how much they’ll cost, but the mayor said he hopes they’ll be available within six months.

During a presentation, Theresa Agonia, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, told the crowd the cost of the cards will be low because the city isn’t seeking to make a profit from the program.

Agonia said the program is also designed to “strengthen and protect our communities.” She said shelters will recognize the IDs for homeless people or victims of domestic violence.

But she said the cards will also provide discounts at local establishments and other benefits to city residents. She said more than half of the people who have signed up for the New York City ID cards did it “because of the benefits.”

During a question-and-answer period, some members of the audience asked how the city intends to store any information that is provided from individuals seeking an ID. Elorza said the city will follow best practices from other cities that have a program and suggested the city may immediately destroy any personal information it receives.

When it comes to outside agencies seeking information about immigration status, Agonia said courts in New York and California have already sided with local governments when it comes to refusing to release personal information. The city does not intend to ask residents about their immigration status.

The proposal has the support of the Providence Police, according to Capt. Dean Isabella. He said “everyone in the city of Providence should feel they have access to the police department,” and the cards will be good for public safety.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.