State law would put an end to Faith Action ID card program

by Jeff Sykes | @jeffreysykes

Greensboro faith and community leaders urged legislators to reject a bill moving through the state’s General Assembly this week that puts an end to a successful identification card program that’s helped local police build better relationships with undocumented immigrants.

Even as passionate supporters of the Faith Action ID Program gathered on the steps of the non-profit’s offices on North Greene Street in Downtown Greensboro, Republicans in the state senate gathered for a vote late Monday that moved the bill one step closer to reality.

House Bill 318, known as the Protect North Carolina Workers act, languished in committee since April, but was resurrected Sept. 23 when a committee substitute emerged that contained provisions of several bills lumped together. The changes include language that prohibits government and law enforcement from accepting documents as proper identification unless specifically approved by the General Assembly.

The state senate passed the committee substitute by a 28-17 vote. The bill now moves back to the house where a vote was scheduled for Tuesday night.

Rev. David Fraccaro, executive director of Faith Action International House, said the ID program began three years ago “as a concrete way to build greater understanding, trust and cooperation” between the city’s diverse immigrant population and local police and government agencies.

Fraccaro said community groups worked with the city and local police for more than a year to develop the ID program, which has issued cards to more than 3,000 people in Greensboro and nearby Alamance County.

The problem the Faith Action ID addresses is simple: bridging the gap between undocumented immigrants and others in the community who can’t access a state-issued identification card and police procedure that requires an officer to arrest someone if they cannot positively prove their identity.

Fraccaro and others said the card is also of value to the homeless and many of the community’s poorest residents who can’t afford a DMV identification.

The program’s success in Greensboro led city officials to allow the card to be used to apply for city utilities and library cards.

But it’s the reality of police work at the back end of this country’s broken immigration system that most highlights the card’s utility.

Dulce Ortiz, an administrative assistant at Faith Action, said she the ID card helped her feel comfortable approaching police in times of need.

“It means safety and wellbeing,” Ortiz said. “It means that we are no longer afraid to call the police officers when we have seen crimes committed or when we have been victims of a crime.”

Ortiz said she was once the victim of a serious crime, but did not call police because she was afraid of them. The process of securing the Faith Action ID allowed her to overcome that fear, in addition to giving her a way to satisfy a patrol officer’s need to establish her identity.

“This ID for us equals trust, it equals a safer and more secure and united community for all,” Ortiz said. “The immigrant community will be devastated if they pass this bill. We have called North Carolina our home. We have stood up for it and we love this land and we care for our neighbors. We would hate to see any bill passed that threatens the safety and wellbeing of our community.”

Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott said one of the biggest challenges facing law enforcement today is how to break down barriers between police and various communities.

“The Faith Action ID program that was started here in Greensboro is a model for doing just that,” Scott said. Scott appeared with Burlington Police Department Capt. Jeff Wood at Monday’s press conference at Faith Action International House. Wood said that during the last year police in Burlington have worked to build relationships in the community and to encourage those who traditionally wouldn’t report, or be a witness to, a crime to come forward.

“We feel like the Faith Action ID has helped this to occur and build these strong relationships,” Wood said.

If state law precludes police from accepting the card as a form of identification, Wood said it would cost patrol officer time and fill jails with petty offenders. Such a move would be detrimental to local police, he said.

“If they limit the type of ID we can accept, then you will have a whole lot more people arrested and booked into jails, tying up valuable law enforcement resources because of a specific ID that they can only accept,” Wood said. “It’s not just impacting our immigrant community, but our homeless.

This has been a very positive program for the homeless, who might not have the opportunity to get an ID. We see the positives from a law enforcement perspective.”

GPD Capt. Mike Richey, who was part of the discussion group that spawned the Faith Action ID Card concept, said police have solved major felony cases because of the trust built with undocumented communities. Several instances of domestic violence, one human trafficking, and one child sexual abuse case have been solved because victims and witnesses were willing to trust local police.

Several faith leaders spoke about the moral obligation to be welcoming to strangers, including a local rabbi who said the command was mentioned 39 times in the Bible.

Fraccaro mentioned a case where an 83-year-old North Carolina native who was born in a rural part of the state and never secured official birth records was able to use the Faith Action ID card to secure emergency medical surgery.

The program’s success with law enforcement, and its applicability to other civic and community circumstances, attracted attention to the Faith Action program, Fraccaro said, with cities such as Winston-Salem, Charlotte, and Cincinnati, Ohio looking for ways to model their own programs after the one started in Greensboro.

“This is something we should be claiming as a state, not pushing away,” Fraccaro said. !