A growing coalition of groups and citizens wants Wyandotte County to become the first place in Kansas to issue local identification to residents.
Advocates estimate a municipal ID program could potentially benefit about 30,000 persons by making it easier for them to open bank accounts, enroll children in school and access health care.
The idea, which has been around for more than two years, has moved slowly, in part due to leadership changes in the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas. At a forum Tuesday night at First Baptist Church, advocates indicated they were growing impatient.
“We need our Unified Government and mayor to approve this. It’s been too long,” said Naomi Tolentino, with Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation.
The Safe & Welcoming Wyandotte Coalition, which includes ACLU of Kansas, El Centro and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, also wants the Unified Government to enact a policy discouraging the police and sheriffs departments from cooperating with federal immigration agencies seeking to deport immigrants who have not committed crimes.
Coalition leaders have met with mayor and CEO David Alvey, but the Board of Commissioners has not discussed the municipal ID or non-compliance policy in public.
Yazmin Valdez, a recent graduate of Sumner High School in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools, told an audience of more than 100 persons that she often is hampered by the lack of an official ID card.
“Just this year I was not allowed into my own prom,” she said.
Blocked at the door, Valdez said she had to phone her mother and ask her to locate her Mexican passport and bring it to her. “I was embarrassed and frustrated,” she said.
Mike Taylor, a spokesman for the Unified Government, said the Board of Commissioners is planning to schedule a special session in January to discuss municipal ID’s. County leaders are supportive of immigration reform, but details on eligibility, required documents and a process for creating and issuing the IDs would have to be worked out, he said.
Taylor, who serves as the Unified Government’s staff lobbyist, said he was wary of creating a backlash in the Kansas Legislature. “The danger that I see is we would instantly be labeled a sanctuary city,” he said.
Cities that have initiated municipal ID programs try to avoid singling out immigrants by recruiting as many residents as possible. Senior citizens, people released from the corrections system and those without a permanent residence are among the groups that often lack access to an official ID.
More than 20 cities already issue municipal ID’s, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Iowa City, Iowa, and Little Rock, Arkansas. Most IDs offer discounts to services, cultural attractions and sometimes stores, restaurants and transit services. Oakland’s municipal ID doubles as a debit card.
As the forum ended, people lined up to draft letters to Alvey. Others signed up to appear at future commission meetings.
“We’re ready to kick-start this so it passes as soon as possible,” said Karla Juarez, with Advocates for Immigration Reform and Reconciliation.
Barbara Shelley is a freelance journalist.