Mar Valdecantos, Marlene Rojas and Lucy Gonzales are just three of the many Northfield residents who have worked toward implementing a Municipal ID initiative in Northfield. After many months of community organizing, education and advocacy, on Dec. 5 the Northfield City Council unanimously voted in favor of a Municipal ID city ordinance.
The latinx immigrant community in New Haven, Conn. began the Municipal ID movement in 2007 in an attempt to help undocummented residents access a valid form of photo identification.
“This is something that many cities around the country have done in the past. People can get confused, it’s not a driving license, it’s not a document you can use to vote. It started with … immigrants [acting] out of frustration of not having driving licenses or state IDs,” Valdecantos said. She is currently the Vice Chair of the Northfield Human Rights Commission.
While the Municipal ID began as a tool to bolster the resource access and community involvement of immigrant communities, it has proved useful for other groups as well. At minimum, the cards include the cardholder’s photograph, full name, date of birth, address, signature, issue date and expiration date.
“It’s a glorified library card in a way,” Valdecantos said. “It has the information card and the picture. As you know in this country it’s hard to get picture ID if you don’t drive. This would provide picture ID for those who cannot otherwise access it.”
The cards may also include information like pertinent medical histories, the card holder’s chosen gender and official or un-official names. The cards consequently allow gender nonconforming cardholders to identify their own gender, and provide senior citizens who cannot drive a valid form of ID.
Valdecantos and other local community organizers began pursuing this possibility for Northfield over one year ago when Mariano Espinoza, a communtiy organizer from the Twin Cities, mentioned the Municipal ID during a “Know Your Rights” training held at Greenvale Community School.
“This has been a very long process in that the very seed of it was way back [during] the last election cycle when we got the new mayor,” Valdecantos said. “When she was elected I approached her and said ‘Your predecessor tried to connect with the latino community in town, so what are you going to do [to do the same]?’”
In hopes of both passing and successfully implementing a Municipal ID ordinance, Valdecantos and others researched the strategies of exemplar community advocates and cities who had already done so.
“We started having conversations with the city in May,” Valdecantos said. “The mayor asked that we proposed this from the Human Rights Commission. It just so happened that I am on the Commission. Then we had a presentation to the City back on Sept. 12, [and] after that the City had to do their own research based on what we offered them.”
There were three follow-up meetings scheduled on Nov. 21, Dec. 5 and Dec. 12 to consider the ID proposal. The ordinance was consequently drafted and considered in full at the Dec. 5 meeting.
“It was absolutely packed,” Council Member Suzie Nakasian said. “The community members stepped forward and gave so many examples. For instance, when a person goes to pick up their child from daycare, the daycare requires an ID that says you are in fact who you say you are. Many undocumented people don’t have an ID … so they have to carry very precious documentation.”
During the meeting, the City Council voted to implement a Municipal ID initiative in Northfield. Despite the unanimous vote, it is not yet an official city ordinance, as there must be a second deliberation meeting for it to be passed. This meeting will take place on Dec. 12.
“Next Tuesday is mainly a formality,” Valdecantos said. “The work is not done, because the first cards may be issued in March of 2018 … and we still have to educate the community. The more people that sign up to get their IDs the better. It shouldn’t be the ‘senior card’ or the ‘immigrant card’ or the ‘transgender card.’”
Nakasian echoed Valdecantos, emphasizing the importance of all community members obtaining a Municipal ID once they are available. While a driver’s license accomplishes the practical benefits that the alternative ID offers certain residents, Valdecantos and Nakasian asserted that the ordinance is about more than practicality.
“It is a gesture that confirms that we are a community and that everyone who lives here are a valued part of that community. Period,” Nakasian said. “It’s at no additional expense to the city, except for the cost of the cards. We really encourage all students, everybody to have [one] in solidarity with them.”
Moving forward, community-wide engagement with the Municipal ID will be vital for its success on an individual and community level.
“What we’ve got is support all across [the board], we have tons of letters of support from many different groups in town, including at the state level as well. Legislators and so forth,” Valdecantos said. “Undocumented people are overwhelmed at the support they see that they didn’t know existed.”