Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa / Photo by Flickr user Antonio Villaraigosa (Creative Commons)
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa / Photo by Flickr user Antonio Villaraigosa (Creative Commons)

Los Angeles may soon become the largest city in the nation to offer official identification cards to undocumented immigrants. The cards would allow immigrants the ability to open bank accounts and access city services.

On Tuesday, an L.A. City Council committee approved a plan to get proposals from companies to operate the card program. The plan now goes before the full council for a vote.

The proposed City Services Card would be a photo ID with address and birthdate. The cards would also function like a prepaid debit card.

“This card allows people who have been living in the shadows to be out in the light of day,” Councilman Ed Reyes said.

According to the Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office, card applicants would have to meet strict criteria, and the card would not take the place of driver’s licenses.

Supporters say the cards can help reduce crime against immigrants, because with access to bank accounts immigrants would not be forced to carry large amounts of cash around. Activists say this currently makes them a target for robberies.

Jesse Torres, president and CEO of Pan American Bank in East Los Angeles, said that besides lowering the risk of muggings, the cards can offer financial security and protection from predatory services like check cashers and payday lenders.

Critics of the plan say it makes it too easy for undocumented immigrants.

“It is clearly an accommodation,” said Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “Los Angeles is making it easier for people who have violated federal immigration laws to live in the city.”

Officials say the elderly, homeless and other legal residents without identification would also benefit from the program.

If the city council approves the plan, Los Angeles will join California cities San Francisco and Oakland which are already issuing ID cards to undocumented immigrants.

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