How do you document the undocumented?
In the absence of federal immigration reform, that is the question many cities have been striving to answer.
Last week, after a 12-1 City Council vote, Los Angeles joined a growing number of U.S. cities that have decided to issue identification cards to undocumented immigrants who offer proof of residence. In theory, the cards will allow L.A.'s enormous undocumented population -- estimated to be more than 700,000 people -- to pay bills, open bank accounts, get bus passes, acquire store membership, apply for health insurance, pick up their kids from school, or access any other city services that require identification.
Several American cities, such as New Haven, San Francisco, and Oakland are all at different stages of operating ID distribution programs. Yet in the five years since the first municipal IDs debuted in New Haven, there's been little consensus -- and little dialogue -- between them. No two card systems are the same. And no system has yet provided a replicable model for reformers.
Hence the importance of the project in L.A., whose immigrant population is far greater than any city that's tried it before. The success of an ID program in L.A. would not only establish a prototype for a municipal ID system, it would validate the whole concept. With plenty of cities -- and potentially the federal government -- on the hunt for sensible immigration policy, Los Angeles has the chance to perfect the model.