New city ID cards have no point

Aside from adding to their constituency’s feelings of virtue, it is hard to see much point to the Board of Supervisors’ 10-1 vote Tuesday to make new city identification cards available to any local resident upon request — at a general fund expense of $500,000 to $1 million yearly.

The municipal ID cards were promoted as being useful to multiple marginalized groups such as the homeless or transients, transgender persons and seniors who no longer drive. But clearly the new local ID documentation was directed primarily for illegal immigrants, as asolidifying feature to San Francisco’s already-declared safe-haven status.

Offering citywide documentation to the undocumented was essentially a nonissue locally, but it did receive substantial national coverage as yet another eccentric sample of San Francisco enacting its own municipal foreign policy.

The photo-and-address ID cards will cost $15 for adults and $5 for seniors or minors, and will require verifying photo identification and proof of residence, such as ID from a business, school or foreign country, plus utility bills, rent receipts or homeless shelter verification. Starting in August 2008, the cards will be available at the County Clerk’s Office in City Hall.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano sponsored The City ID ordinance, arguing that San Franciscans without government-issued identification face unfair difficulties in accessing everyday services. They suffer impaired ability to use public facilities such as health clinics or libraries, to effectively seek help from police officers, or to utilize basic commercial services such as opening a bank account or making a credit purchase.

So the question should be asked: How much positive difference would San Francisco ID cards make for those it is intended to serve? Our guess is not much.

Frankly, it is hard to imagine why many of The City’s estimated 40,000 illegal immigrants would voluntarily pay for an identifying document that automatically places them on a roster of illegal immigrants, no matter how many pledges they hear that deportation officials will never see the information.

Choosing to sign up would be something like a wanted fugitive registering with police in order to become eligible for an ATM card. In fact, Mexican illegal immigrants — the largest U.S. undocumented contingent — can already obtain identification cards from their local consulates, which would never develop any vested interest in deporting them.

As for the smaller subgroups also supposed to benefit from San Francisco ID cards, word from the largest banks is that opening an account will still require conventional identification proof. And seniors who no longer drive can get a type of California driver’s card that is valid only as identification.

We recognize that a San Francisco ID card might well have limited value for a minimal number of city residents, such as transgender people who will be helped by not having sex categories on their municipal ID. But it would seem to us that San Francisco ID cards are mostly about letting the Board of Supervisors feel productive without actually doing anything about meaningful city issues.

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