Nov 2, 2023 - News

Surging demand for city ID cards strains Chicago clerk's office

Photo courtesy of the City of Chicago

The City Clerk's Office has been inundated with demand for municipal ID cards called CityKeys, due in part to the arrival of thousands of migrants in the city.

Why it matters: Clerk Anna Valencia says it's "not sustainable" and that her office needs more funding for the program offering government-issued IDs to vulnerable communities, regardless of immigration or housing status.

State of play: CityKey is available to anyone with a Chicago address, and the city ID works as a CTA pass, library card and prescription discount card. It also offers deals at restaurants, cultural venues and sports events.

How it works: Applicants must show at least one document with their photo, one with their date of birth, and proof of Chicago residency.

  • Homeless residents and new arrivals can use a shelter address or letters from organizations that are connecting them with resources for proof of residency.
  • Of note: Migrants must show their Homeland Security paperwork, birth certificates, or consulate cards with their photo ID.

What's happening: Attendance at mobile events that help people apply for the CityKey has been climbing, especially following the migrant crisis, City Clerk spokesperson Diana Martinez tells Axios.

  • In October, the office canceled two events due to safety concerns over ballooning attendance, Martinez says.
  • She also warned that some interest is spurred by misinformation. Some new arrivals, for example, incorrectly view the ID as a work permit, Martinez says.

By the numbers: About 24,000 CityKeys have been distributed so far this year, compared with 19,000 for all of 2022.

  • The pandemic slowed participation, with fewer than 14,000 IDs distributed in 2020 and 2021 combined.
  • Valencia's office does not keep track of how many new arrivals are getting the CityKey, she said at an October budget hearing.

Zoom in: Valencia is requesting that the 2024 proposed budget include $320,000 for a new online platform to manage the growing demand for CityKeys. Right now the program costs the office $1.2 million annually, she said.

What they're saying: "We really are asking for some support on this, because CityKey is just unmanageable right now, and it had a high demand of events before the wave of new arrivals," Valencia said at the recent hearing. "My team is burnt out and exhausted."

The other side: At a budget hearing last month, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) and Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) raised questions about the vetting process for new arrivals, which Valencia has defended as thorough.

  • Beale said oversight of the program should be run by the state, rather than the city.

What's ahead: Clerk's Office staff say they will update their website and social media for upcoming opportunities to apply for the CityKey.


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