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Border & Immigration

Oakland To Issue IDs That Double As Debit Cards

Sample of an Oakland City ID card.
City Of Oakland
Sample of an Oakland City ID card.

The city of Oakland is taking a major step toward helping bring many of its residents, especially illegal immigrants, out of the shadows.

It will issue a municipal identification card to anyone who can prove they are a resident.

Oakland isn't the only city to issue such ID cards to illegal immigrants. New Haven, Conn., and San Francisco already do that.


The Oakland card, however, has a unique feature -- it doubles as a debit card.

In Oakland's predominantly Latino Fruitvale neighborhood, a group of day laborers are gathered for their weekly meeting. They talk about everything from overhauling immigration to keeping safe on the job. The conversation turns to the new city issued identification cards and how to encourage people to apply for them.

Mario Sandoval introduces himself to the group and tells them they should get a identification card especially for times when you have to deal with the authorities. Like if when you're driving and get stopped by the police. It's not a license, but at least you can identify yourself, he says.

The ID card is marketed by a Venice-based company, SF Global, in association with MasterCard and the Minnesota-based University National Bank.

Having access to a such a bank is important to Marcos Rodriguez, so that he doesn't have to carry large amounts of cash. Otherwise, he says he's easy pickings for bad guys.


"You know sometimes they have knives or gun in their hands," Rodriguez says. "You know that happened to me like several times. You know they stole my money and they beat me up you know and its really hard for some of us."

Day laborers can be easy targets for thieves who know they carry cash, instead of depositing wages in the bank.

"Day laborers most of the time are seen as walking ATMs because they get robbed on the street," Gabriela Galicia says who works with day laborers at Street Level Health Project, a non-profit that serves the undocumented and uninsured.

Galicia's group is part of a coalition that's trying to get the word out on the city ID card. The project has been in the works for more than two years.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan says the card can help people anytime they deal with a city agency, be it the police or the public library. And the debit feature is important for people who have no place to put their money.

"This debit function will allow them to put their money somewhere safe and to avoid some of the really, really huge fees that they charge at these check cashing facilities in the Latino community or even the Asia community," Quan said.

The ID card isn't free. It will cost $15 for adults, and $10 for youths and seniors. There will also be additional costs, such as depositing money into and withdrawing funds from the debit account.

Still, the ID card has it critics.

"It's one more way of having a de facto amnesty for illegal immigrants," Mark Krikorian said, who directs the Washngton-based Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank favoring strict immigration controls.

"This kind of measure, along with say, giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants helps integrate illegal immigrants into our institutions in a way that is simply inappropriate," Krikorian said.

But Mayor Quan says the card isn't just for the undocumented. She sees it as a way to bring banking services to citizens and legal residents who are poor and unbanked.

The city began accepting applications last week. The first ones will roll out in mid-March.

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