Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Municipal ID cards could be dangerous for undocumented immigrants

Boston residents define themselves based on the city where they reside — and soon they might also be able to identify themselves with a city-issued ID card.

Some city councilors are proposing for Boston to create its own ID cards for residents, according to Boston.com. At a council committee hearing Thursday, conversation about a recent feasibility study revealed that such an ID is widely popular a year after the City first introduced the idea.

City officials are marketing this idea as a point of city pride, a unifying symbol for residents, when it seems they haven’t fully thought out whether Boston is equipped to protect applicants’ information.

The idea behind the program itself isn’t bad. Having an ID is essential for almost every aspect of life. Over 140,000 people who can’t obtain a government-issued ID could use the municipal ID card to go about opening bank accounts, applying for jobs and other tasks required of day-to-day life. People who struggle to obtain a government ID, whether they are immigrants, homeless or undocumented for any reason, should have the opportunity to live and work in this city too.

Providing these people with some form of identification is a fundamental step toward meeting Boston’s goal of really being a sanctuary city — really providing for the needs of citizens who are disadvantaged by the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies —  and not just saying that we do to sound good in a press conference.

But the City needs to think more about how to implement this program in a way so it doesn’t backfire on undocumented immigrant communities that could use the OneCard — as it will be known — to their benefit. If the people who will be applying for this service can’t get a government ID, there’s a reason, and identifying parts of themselves that could cause them to be persecuted is scary — especially under the current administration.

It’s unclear what information the City would be gathering on each individual, and that needs to be clarified before we can commit to this program. What information would be on someone’s card if they don’t have an address — just their name and birthday? Their social security number, for those who have one, too?

This move has the potential to be dangerous for cardholders. Andre Lima, director of policy and research for the Mayor’s Office of Health and Human Services, said the City will be entrusting a third party data service with the personal information of cardholders. It’s concerning that the City doesn’t have the infrastructure to store our information.

With the addition of MBTA Charlie Card and library card capabilities, the OneCard could help residents access public transportation and public knowledge. These discounts are a plus, but at the same time, the people who would benefit most from the OneCard aren’t people who will be benefiting from museum ticket discounts. This isn’t a Boston tourism card that’ll get you into the Museum of Fine Arts for free, and that shouldn’t be the point.

Walsh doesn’t have the best track record of protecting immigrants’ information. At the same time that he pledged to make Boston a sanctuary city, his police department was putting immigrant youth at risk of deportation by sharing information with federal immigration officials, according to The Appeal. Officials were using that information to label undocumented young people alleged to be involved in gangs, according to various news reports.

Why should people apply for cards, trusting the City with information that could put them harm’s way, given this history? Unless people are certain their information will be protected, they might not even apply.

This card might be a good thing for a lot of people, but there’s no telling what could happen down the line if information falls into the wrong hands. Until the City is better equipped to manage the private information of its own residents, the OneCard shouldn’t be on the table.

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