September 11, 2012
Los Angeles Considers Using Library Cards As IDs for Undocumented Citizens
It’s campaign season. We’ve all seen stories about battles in Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, and other states over the use of IDs as a mechanism to either keep the voter rolls clean or deny the ballot box to otherwise valid voters. Take your pick. I don’t express a point of view here on the merits of voter ID laws. But I do want to point out that the city of Los Angeles is looking into making the municipal library card an ID that can link to other services such as bank accounts.
The Los Angeles Times reports that such a card would contain a person’s name, address, and a photograph. It would be given to anyone who could provide proof of residency in Los Angeles irrespective of immigration status. The proposal is designed to offer some forms of financial security and protection to those who would not otherwise qualify for a bank account. A third party would work with the city and banks to establish the accounts for card holders. The cards could then be used as ATM cards for a small monthly fee. Access to banking services reduces the need for payday loan services which tend to be the only financial outlet for those who cannot open a bank account directly.
The story notes there are similar programs in other California cities, though this is the first time a library card is proposed as a multi-function identification card. The concept has received its share of criticism from immigration groups that support a tighter line on the enforcement of immigration laws. They see the Los Angeles program as promoting a service that can be exploited by criminals and terrorists. I’m not so sure myself. I see it as a way of bringing services to an otherwise exploitable group living in Los Angeles. The card does not confer status on anyone. It can’t lead to a driver’s license or protect anyone from immigration proceedings. If anything, it documents the undocumented, assuming the proof residency the city requires is high. It all depends on the details of implementation. Either way, the population the card would serve is already there with or without it.
There isn’t any word on how the library system feels about this. I would expect use of the public library would increase as a consequence. I would hope the city funds the program and the library system adequately if it is serious about the proposal. Let’s see if it goes forward. And if it does, let’s see if it works. [MG]