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Kansas City, Kansas, residents without a state ID lived in fear. That's about to change

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Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
/
KCUR 89.3
Jodi Vogel stands on her front porch in front of a home she shares with her grandfather and people experiencing homelessness.

Thanks to the Safe and Welcoming Act, Wyandotte County residents who don’t have a legal ID will have an opportunity to get a municipal photo ID, which advocates say will help connect them with needed resources. 

Angela V. has lived in Kansas City, Kansas, for almost two decades. She's a business and home owner who cares deeply about her community. She’s also undocumented, which is why KCUR isn’t using her last name.

Angela moved to the United States from Mexico in 2003. From the moment she arrived, she said, she struggled with not having any form of identification. Not having a photo ID made it hard for her to do everyday things such as travel by bus or train, enroll her children in school or open a bank account.

“It's really hard to live like that. Most of the people, they don't understand because they have their ID, they have their driver's license,” Angela said. “For them, it's so easy to just go and get it. For us, it's really hard.”

Although she has an ID from the Mexican consulate now, Angela said she still worries that's not sufficient.

“When you go and present your Mexican ID, some people will say, ‘Oh, I don't know what it says, everything is in Spanish or whatever,’” she said. “So they're not gonna accept that because they say, ‘Well, this is in Spanish. I need to see a Kansas ID.’”

But that’s all set to change. On Thursday, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas passed the Safe and Welcoming Act, which will provide municipal IDs to residents who don’t have a legal ID. That includes people who were born in the United States and lost their state ID or never had one to begin with.

Jodi Vogel is a longtime resident of the area and a volunteer for WyCo Mutual Aid, a group that advocates for residents’ unmet needs. Vogel, who has experienced homelessness, is renovating a home to share with people who need a place to stay overnight. Born in California and adopted as a child, she said she does not have a birth certificate and therefore can’t get a Kansas ID. She plans to get a municipal ID when they become available.

Vogel spends most of her days collecting and distributing food and other necessities to people experiencing homelessness. She said the vast majority don’t have an ID and it prevents them from obtaining resources like medical care and accessing food banks. A municipal ID, Vogel said, could help address those problems.

“Just the simple things,” Vogel said. “For these people to be able to cash checks, for them to be able to identify themselves if they're pulled over, for them to have some type of feeling of being a person again,”

Without a municipal ID, Vogel said people find themselves in a Catch-22 situation.

“We're putting them in the same hamster circle because then they go try to get a ID, they don't have Social Security cards because you need some kind of identification to get a Social Security card. You need some kind of identification to get the stuff that you need to get the ID,” Vogel said.

In addition to providing people with a municipal ID, the new ordinance bars local police from collaborating with the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) unless public safety is jeopardized.

Angela said she has lived in fear of deportation for years and in the past avoided leaving home because she was too frightened. Angela said she and others in the community avoided any kind of contact with the police — even in cases of emergency — because they worried the police would report their status to immigration officials.

When Angela first moved here, she was in her early 20s and stuck in an abusive marriage. She said she endured the abuse a lot longer than she might have otherwise because she was scared to go to the authorities.

“My ex-husband, he would really, I mean, he always told me that he's gonna kill me. You know, even though I was that scared, I was most scared to go to the police,” Angela said. “Sometimes you are more scared to go to the police than to the bad people, because you don't have an idea.”

Angela said she understands her rights now, but others may not. The new ordinance, she said, will allow them to leave home and not live in constant fear. The municipal ID will serve as proof for herself and others that they are officially members of the community.

“All this change, you know, Kansas is getting to this point that you're not scared anymore because you used to be so scared,” Angela said. “I remember when they say that if you're driving and police will stop you and they're gonna call ICE right away, you know? Now, I think it's gonna be so much better for everybody and be safer.”

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga is a freelance reporter for KCUR 89.3.
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