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City Council Considers Charlotte Photo ID For Immigrants

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Tom Bullock/WFAE News

The Charlotte City Council found itself on federal turf Monday night as it debated immigration policy. This after a task force submitted proposals to make the city more immigrant friendly and allow the city to better take advantage of Charlotte’s immigrant economy. There were 27 proposals in all. The most controversial: issuing a Charlotte photo ID to all immigrants who want one, whether they’re in the country legally or illegally. 

Charlotte’s Immigrant Integration Task force began its pitch to the city council with a simple truth, Charlotte is a much more diverse place than it was 30 years ago.

"In 1980, less than one percent of Charlotte’s population was foreign born," said Emily Zimmern, the task force co-chair. "Today 15 percent, 1 in 7 Charlotteans is an immigrant, born outside the U.S."

Those numbers are from the U.S. Census Bureau. As the presentation continued, Zimmern added that immigrants make up 10 percent of Charlotte's workforce and they pay "hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local taxes." The provenance of other numbers was not as clear.

The whole purpose of the task force was best summed up by task force Chair Stefan Latorre. "We need immigrant integration for future success," he told the council, "to make Charlotte more prosperous, safer, more inclusive, stronger and improve the quality of life for all residents of Charlotte."

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Credit Tom Bullock/WFAE News
Supporters of the Immigrant Integration Task Force at last night's City Council Meeting

In order to make that better the task force came up with 27 proposals. Some were relatively small, awareness campaigns, partnerships to encourage immigrant owned small businesses and an incubator for them in a vacant strip mall.

Others, like training 311 operators to answer questions for immigrants about Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act would make Capitol Hill blush.

Then there was the proposal for a Charlotte issued photo ID for immigrants, regardless of legal status. The ID could be issued to anyone who wants one, said Latorre. And he says there's a need.

"Its not that easy for everyone to get an ID at the DMV," he said, "There’s a segment of the population outside of undocumented immigrants that have a difficulty having an ID."

That group, he said, includes the homeless, transgendered people and some students.

And, he added, these IDs could serve multiple purposes, combination library card, school ID, bus pass and the like.

But that ID would still cost something – and so too would the creation and staffing of a new group in the city to serve as the main liaison between the city and immigrant communities. Something the task force called the Office of New Charlotteans. So council member Kenny Smith asked;

KS: Have you identified any funding sources, as we enter into some pretty significant budget strains, to pay for the ID and the Office of New Charlotteans and some of those things? SL: Well, the job of the task force was not to say how to or certainly to identify how are you going to pay for this. We are recommending strategies. Now we think it’s the job of the city manager and city staff to identify how to, what’s the best way of doing these things.

That was a common refrain from Latorre and Zimmern.

Without meat on the proposal bone the debate at the city council quickly turned federal. Claire Fallon said she supported the measure because of entitlements.

"We are not having children," she said, "And if you want social security to last you’re going to have to welcome these people who pay it."

Ed Driggs said you can't think of these proposals in a vacuum. It’s all part of a national debate on immigration. David Howard wants these politics to stay local.

"I would hope as we go forward we will not get pulled into a national conversation, let the national conversation take care of itself."

Now it seems it's up to city staff to figure out the details of that conversation. No vote on these proposals is currently scheduled.

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