Jul 22, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Government eyes plan to give I.D.s to unauthorized immigrants

A U.S. Border Patrol agent takes photos of immigrants as they wait to be processed

A U.S. Border Patrol agent takes photos of immigrants as they wait to be processed. Photo: Qian Weizhong/VCG via Getty Images

The Biden administration plans to test providing temporary I.D. cards to unauthorized immigrants awaiting a final decision on their cases, according to two government sources familiar with the planning.

Why it matters: Recent border crossers and other unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. often do not have I.D.s , making it more difficult to access housing, healthcare, transportation and other benefits.

  • Officials are considering a pilot program to relieve some of those burdens, while also incentivizing more frequent communication with law enforcement throughout the complicated court process, the sources said.

Don‘t forget: Congressional members included $10 million for the program, which is called the "ICE Secure Docket Card program" in the FY 2023 appropriations bill.

  • The administration is hoping to get needed Congressional approval before the end of September to roll out a pilot — before a potential Republican takeover in November.

How it works: The details of the program and who would be enrolled in a pilot are not yet decided.

  • Generally, I.D. cards would be provided to migrants not in detention centers who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border or others without legal status going through the lengthy immigration or removal court processes.
  • The card would likely include a QR code that would provide the enrollee access to court information and documents via an app, the sources said. This could potentially lessen the mounting number of FOIA requests for information about immigration cases.
  • It would also allow unauthorized immigrants such as asylum seekers to prove — if stopped by authorities — they are already in the immigration system.
  • Ideally, it would also incentivize unauthorized immigrants to provide accurate information about their location and virtually check-in more often with law enforcement —rather than having to wait in line at a physical ICE office.

What to watch: If given the green light, there could be even bigger potential uses for such I.D. cards down the line.

  • They could be presented to TSA agents to allow unauthorized immigrants to more easily travel by plane or to access certain state benefit programs.

What they're saying: “The ICE Secure Docket Card program is part of a pilot program to modernize various forms of documentation provided to provisionally released noncitizens through a consistent, verifiable, secure card," an ICE spokesperson tells Axios.

The secure card will contain a photo, biographic identifiers, and "cutting-edge security features" to the mutual benefit of the government and noncitizens, the spokesperson added.

Specifics of the program are still under development, but ICE says the primary goal of the SDC is to "improve current, inconsistent paper forms that often degrade rapidly in real world use." Pending the outcome of the pilot, ICE says it will consider to further expand it.

The big picture: It's yet another sign of the administration's attempt to revamp ICE — the agency charged with arresting, detaining and deporting unauthorized immigrants.

  • Under Biden, the agency has already ended family detention, attempted to focus arrests on immigrants with criminal records and dramatically expanded alternative to detention programs, which use apps and devices to trace unauthorized immigrants as opposed to locking them up.
  • It would not be the first time the administration turns to mobile apps to deal with a backlogged immigration system. Last year, border officials began using an app to process asylum seekers at the border, as the L.A. Times reported at the time.
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