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FaithAction, Greensboro plan alternative immigrant IDS

by Eric Ginsburg

 eric@yesweekly.com

By the time FaithAction International House Director David Fraccaro made the announcement at the end a community meeting on Sunday, the audience had thinned significantly, but the news could have a strong impact on immigrant communities in Greensboro: The city is poised to pilot an alternative ID program.

The identification card, which would be issued by FaithAction and would not be a substitute for a government-issued ID or driver’s license, has been initially approved by the Greensboro Police Department and the city manager’s office. Fraccaro told the audience at a community meeting about immigration that a year of conversations between immigrants and the police would likely culminate in a pilot project soon that would begin at congregations like St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where Sunday’s meeting was held.

The concept of an alternative form of identification for immigrants who may not have another form of recognized ID isn’t new — cities such as Winston-Salem and Durham already have a system in place — and Greensboro police have for a year been meeting with immigrant community leaders and attending large meetings like the one Sunday. Out of those conversations, an alternative ID emerged as a consistent theme.

The IDs would include name, sex, date of birth, a photo and any religious or cultural affiliation if desired and would be recognized by the police department, building trust between immigrants and Greensboro police and reducing the need for arrest in some cases, Deputy Chief Dwight Crotts said. In a memo to the city manager last week, Chief Ken Miller explained the department’s support for the idea.

“This initiative, while providing dignity and inclusiveness to immigrant residents in our community, will provide Greensboro police officers with crucial information to better address and resolve legal and criminal concerns involving immigrants who may not otherwise have a valid form of ID,” Miller wrote. “It can save tremendous time and resources by allowing officers to issue citations instead of having to make custodial arrests, keeping our officers in the field and available to respond to calls for service or doing proactive work.”

Assistant City Manager Jim Westmoreland said the “definitive benefits” that the police department would see from the initiative are a key reason his office is supportive.

“I think we see it as a good way for the police department to partner with this specific community group,” Westmoreland said, adding that Latino and other immigrant communities would feel an impact. “From the city’s perspective I think we feel comfortable with where the project currently stands. We always look for ways to better interact with members of the community.”

Fraccaro said immigrants who were frustrated that they didn’t have a form of recognized identification that police would accept initially brought the idea forward in community meetings over the last year. Residents who spoke at Sunday’s community meeting on immigration, which drew about 250 people, raised numerous issues related to lacking proper documentation, from citizenship papers to a driver’s license. While the alternative ID wouldn’t provide relief for some of the larger issues of immigration reform discussed Sunday, Fraccaro said it was in important step towards building trust and creating a sense of dignity.

“This is an ID that I think brings about a sense of belonging, of value,” he said. “While it’s not a driver’s license, this is not a Blockbuster card either. This is a next step, and that’s great.”

Fraccaro said the impact this “goodfaith effort” would have on people’s sense of belonging and community could not be overstated.

The alternative identification cards can include religious or cultural affiliations, such as the Niger Association in Greensboro or a church relationship, Fraccaro said. As far as police are concerned, Crotts said, the IDs needed to have a name, date of birth and photo identification.

If all goes as planned, FaithAction will purchase the necessary equipment and— after a pilot program at several local churches — will officially roll out the alternative ID system on July 8. The IDs would likely cost $10 or less, Fraccaro said, helping the nonprofit to recoup some of its costs for the equipment and employees’ time to orient recipients to how the ID will function. Alternative ID holders would need to renew the card annually, Miller’s memo said.

Once the project begins, any local resident will be able to obtain one regardless of their immigration status, and supporters who have legal forms of ID could choose to be issued one as a statement of solidarity, Fraccaro said. The concept fits in line with the nonprofit’s adage, echoed repeatedly by speakers on Sunday: “We’re all in the same boat now.”

Fraccaro said he hopes that in the future the alternative IDs will be accepted beyond the police department, possibly extending to hospitals, a Latino credit union or even discounts at businesses owned by immigrants and other supportive residents.

FaithAction staff and immigrant community leaders have been in close communication with CHANGE, the Winston- Salem community organization that created alternative IDs with the support of the Winston-Salem Police Department. Spokespersons from CHANGE and the police department could not be reached in time for this story.

The Greensboro City Council will not vote on the proposal, but Westmoreland said council was initially briefed in November and received Miller’s memo last week. Fraccaro said after council members are given a chance to ask questions or comment on the plan, the group of police officers and community leaders who have been discussing the issue for the last year will likely meet again to figure out details and formally announce the initiative in the next week or two.

Though the alternative ID program was not the centerpiece of the community meeting on immigration this Sunday, the concept of community unity and sticking together was repeated by speakers and audience members extolling the importance of broader immigration reform.

Religious leaders, attendees, FaithAction staff, immigrants from Niger, and a Grimsley High School student emphasized their common humanity and the need to reach out across congregations, national origin, race and color.

After tearing up while sharing her family’s story about the need for driver’s licenses and comprehensive immigration reform, FaithAction staffer Endy Mendez, who interpreted the meeting between English and Spanish, asked everyone to stand who dreams of providing a better future for their children. Most did.

While the US Congress and state legislature discuss various immigration-related bills — some of which were explained Sunday — Greensboro’s step towards an alternative ID program stood out at the meeting as an example of the power of cooperation and dialogue. It’s a small, but critical, step in accomplishing broader reform and moving forward towards larger goals and future cooperation locally, Fraccaro said.

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