Have you ever forgotten your ID? It's happened to me a few times, most memorably at a friend's wedding where, even though everyone in the room could vouch for me, the bartender would not serve me a drink until I could prove with proper documentation that I was of age.
It was incredibly frustrating and also a bit embarrassing. In that moment, nothing I could say or do trumped the physical reproduction of a valid driver's licence. I felt mistrusted and suspect, and it spoiled my night. All over a drink at a wedding — something of absolutely no consequence to my overall well-being.
Now, imagine what it's like to feel this way when you try to open a bank account or register to volunteer in your child's school. Imagine thinking that, when you report a crime, the police will interrogate you about your identity. Imagine not being able to access government buildings or visit a friend in a hospital or buy Sudafed.
For thousands of Charlotte residents without a government-issued ID, this is their daily reality.
Next week, the city's Immigration Integration Task Force will propose the creation of a Charlotte ID to City Council. A handful of cities across the nation have already instituted successful municipal ID programs, including New York City, where demand for the cards has been overwhelming.
Although this form of documentation would have the biggest impact on Charlotte's undocumented immigrant population, it could also serve as a better way to identify the homeless and elderly, who typically do not have driver's licences.
Lacey Williams is advocacy director for the Latin American Coalition and a member of the Immigration Integration Task Force. She believes that adopting a municipal ID program is a no brainer, especially if the card can be linked to other city services.
"Right now, in order to ride a CATS bus you need to come up with $2.20 in exact change. Who has that? We're hoping that this municipal ID will also serve as a transit pass and a library card. We are also proposing to establish partnerships with cultural institutions to provide discounts and additional services to ID holders."
Linking the ID to a variety of city services and amenities serves another important purpose as well — if all Charlotte residents can find some value in the municipal ID card, then it won't become a "scarlet letter" for undocumented immigrants, a major concern of the task force.
As with anything that involves undocumented immigrants, the Charlotte ID program has many opponents — from those who say that creating this type of identification "aids and abets" illegal immigration to those who argue that this isn't something local municipalities ought to be getting involved in because the state and federal government should handle it.
The argument about this being the role of the federal government is somewhat valid. If Congress would pass comprehensive immigration reform, a municipal ID ordinance would not be as necessary. Yet Congress has been talking about immigration reform for more than 10 years, and it doesn't look like it will happen any time soon. So, while it's true that a municipal ID program doesn't get to the root of our immigration problem, it's a way for cities to take a concrete step that welcomes immigrants and increases public safety.
The issue of public safety is the reason municipal IDs were created in the first place. New Haven, Connecticut, established a city-wide ID card in 2007 after a series of gruesome robberies against undocumented workers. These workers were commonly known as "walking ATMs" because their lack of ID prohibited them from opening bank accounts.
In our city, interactions between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and undocumented immigrants would be greatly improved by the adoption of a municipal ID. Immigrants who are often afraid to report crimes would feel more comfortable doing so if they had a way to prove their identity. Additionally, having a way to identify all residents of Charlotte would make CMPD's job easier and lead to fewer arrests.
However, if none of these arguments are convincing, there's one more that will surely appeal to our city's competitive side. If Charlotte passes a municipal ID ordinance, it would be the first city in the South to do so. But we have to act fast — many other towns and municipalities have realized the benefits of a local ID and are exploring their options.
"It's going to happen in the South," Williams said. "Why can't Charlotte be the first?"