Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Illegals to Get Identification Cards in San Francisco

The national gridlock on immigration has produced some far-left innovation in San Francisco, where city leaders are prepared to grant illegal aliens municipal ID cards. The San Francisco Chronicle supports the idea:

San Francisco, once again, is heading to the policy-making edge. It's on the verge of issuing municipal ID cards to illegal immigrants.

In a city where voters favor an immediate pullout from Iraq and impeachment of President Bush, it's no surprise. Depending on one's point of view, the cards are a humane step to offer outsiders a measure of security - or more defiance from a city that's already declared itself a sanctuary from federal border controls.

So how will it work and what will it really achieve? The plan is touted by its chief sponsor, Supervisor Tom Ammiano, as a benign effort to help marginalized residents open bank accounts and seek city help from, say, police or health clinics. Without any official plastic, these San Franciscans can be exploited or left helpless, he suggests.

Yet it's hardly that simple. No other big city has gone this far, so potent are anti-immigrant emotions and legal uncertainties. A state bill to allow driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants remains stalled in Sacramento. A rewrite of national immigration law aimed at giving legal status to millions of undocumented residents hit the political rocks in Congress last summer, and the issue remains a big issue on the presidential campaign trail.

But in this city, the choice is a no-brainer. After near-unanimous approval by the Board of Supervisors, Mayor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign the plan. No loud debate, no marches, no big deal.

The next steps are unclear. Issuing the cards - no one knows how many - could cost from $1 million to $3 million over three years, a city report states. Also, there's no guarantee that the city's ID card will be enough to open a bank account, one of the purported reasons for the idea. Bank of America and Wells Fargo are politely listening, but representatives for both institutions say the cards alone won't be enough to open an account. To do that, conventional identification on the order of a driver's license, passport or alien registration card are needed.

Zeroing in on practical shortcomings misses the point of the measure. San Francisco, fed up with a contrary national mood, is going its own way in easing the lot of immigrants. The ID cards won't instantly confer legal status or achieve all the advertised goals. But they are welcoming gesture to neglected segment of the city.
San Francisco's a city that loves to go its own way in defying national laws and standards (remember the city's gay marriage law?). The purpose here is simply to further consolidate its santuary city status and get the California debate rolling on a new effort to grant driver's licenses to illegals.

Ill-considered local movements to legalize aliens are all the more reason immigration reform needs to return to the front of the national policy agenda in 2008 and into the next administration. The country needs to slow the flow of aliens crossing the border and to assimilate those who are already here, and that process will require a discussion of how we will legalize the millions of lawbreaking migrants who are now in society's shadows.