Feb 22, 2022 - News

The push for "community ID" cards in Polk County

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A local nonprofit is asking Polk County to create a "community ID" — a countywide identification card that is issued regardless of immigration status — primarily for undocumented immigrants.

Why it matters: It's the latest effort in a nationwide push to narrow the economic and societal disparities that undocumented immigrants face daily.

  • Having a form of photo identification can help in a variety of ways, from opening a bank account to interactions with law enforcement, from getting a library card to picking up their kids from school.

State of play: Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, the group leading the initiative, said Des Moines' immigrant population is one of the fastest-growing in the country.

  • So there's already a rising need for the identification, though the pandemic particularly highlighted existing disparities in Polk County, said Erica Johnson, the group's executive director.
  • Local immigrants have faced challenges accessing food pantries, getting vaccinated and receiving COVID-19 tests due to their lack of ID, Johnson said.

Zoom in: IMMJ plans on asking the Polk County Board of Supervisors to support the IDs and have the county issue them — a move that will give the program more clout.

  • A coalition of local organizations have committed to backing it, including Des Moines schools, Des Moines Public Library, DMARC and Green State Credit Union. United Way also said it would recognize the IDs at its food pantries.

How it could work: Johnson said she wants Polk County's program to closely emulate what's already happening in Johnson County.

  • People who want an ID could show proof they live in Polk County through utility bills, among other means.
  • Funding for it could come from the American Rescue Plan. The county received $95 million.

Yes, but: The IDs couldn't be used for voting, age verification for alcohol, driving or boarding a plane.

What they're saying: There are times when individuals need IDs that aren't obvious, like returning clothing, said Isabel Martinez, of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

  • "How embarrassing, degrading it is not to be able to provide an ID just to exchange a piece of clothing," Martinez said.

Polk County Supervisor Matt McCoy told Axios he supports community IDs, which he says can help first responders quickly identify individuals.

Of note: The four other supervisors didn't respond to Axios' request for comment.


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