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North Carolina identification bill targets a resource for immigrant, LGBTQ+ communities

nayeli garcia hb167
Nayeli Garcia, in the bottom frame, speaks about her experience as an immigrant in North Carolina during a hearing for HB167. Bill sponsor George Cleveland, in the top frame, listens.

Community identification cards, issued by nonprofit groups, have become an increasingly important resource in North Carolina’s immigrant communities and among people who lack access to an alternative form of ID.

A bill that seeks to restrict the use of these cards, HB167, passed through the Judiciary Committee this week and moved one step closer to reaching a vote in the state House of Representatives.

The legislation takes aim at the FaithAction Community ID program, launched a decade ago in Greensboro, North Carolina, as an agreement between faith leaders and the police department. The goal was to establish a more accessible form of ID that would assist both law enforcement and residents without other accepted documents.

Endy Mendez, FaithAction’s education manager, said the concept arose out of conversations with immigrant community members in the basement of a local church.

“One of the biggest things that came through is that law enforcement was under the impression that our community was safe because we were not reporting crimes,” Mendez said. “Instead, there was the challenge that we didn't have a valid form of identification. In order for us to have that encounter with law enforcement, it could put our families at risk of deportation.”

Through trained partner organizations, the FaithAction ID program is now established in 14 North Carolina cities, including Charlotte, and in cities in South Carolina, Florida, Viginia, Iowa, Ohio and Oregon.

Applicants are put through a verification process, similar to what would happen at the Division of Motor Vehicles, Mendez said. They must provide proof of address and proof of identification, which could include an expired passport or national ID card. Unlike a North Carolina Real ID, a FaithAction ID doesn't require a social security number or proof of a lawful immigration status.

The FaithAction ID is more limited in its applications as well. It can't be used to vote, for example. All applicants go through training to understand these limitations.

More than 30,000 FaithAction ID cards have been issued so far.

“We're also tapping into the sectors of families at risk of or suffering homelessness, domestic violence survivors, human trafficking as well, and members from the LGBTQ [community],” Mendez said. “We have done ID drives with the transgender community where we list their name in a preferred name. So, we give them that option.”

This is an example of a community ID, issued by the Latin American Coalition.
Latin American Coalition
This is an example of a community ID, issued by the Latin American Coalition.

The future of the program is now uncertain, as legislation to restrict community IDs nears a vote in the Republican-held House of Representatives.

The primary bill sponsor, Republican George Cleveland, has targeted community IDs in the past. During a House Judiciary hearing on Tuesday, he referenced a 2015 law that already imposes ID restrictions.

“House Bill 167 will basically point out something that's illegal already according to law, that community action IDs are a non-governmental form of identification and, therefore, will not be used for identity purposes by the local governments or any governmental entity,” Cleveland said.

Under the 2015 law, judges, law enforcement officers and government officials are prohibited from accepting a “matricula consular,” a form of identification issued by the Mexican government to its citizens living abroad. It also prohibits officials from accepting IDs that aren’t explicitly recognized by the North Carolina General Assembly.

HB167 would update the 2015 law to include the words “Community Action ID,” a direct hit at the FaithAction ID program. Mendez said there’s fear about what impact the bill could have.

“It's a question that we're actually scared of asking ourselves,” Mendez said. “We're just afraid that they'll try to find amendments to hurt the program even more.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, Nayeli Garcia with El Pueblo spoke about her experience as an immigrant in North Carolina and the need to access a form of identification.

“Eliminating the use of the community IDs will prevent our community from feeling safe, affect trust in law enforcement, and give police or sheriffs fewer tools to identify us,” Garcia said.

In Mecklenburg County, FaithAction IDs are issued through the Latin American Coalition. Alba Sanchez, manager of the coalition’s Immigrant Welcome Center, said they’ve verified and issued around 1,400 IDs since August 2021.

“For so many of the immigrants, maybe it's the only ID they have,” Sanchez said. “Nobody wants to be undocumented. You talk to families [and] it's a heavy weight every single day. So, on top of being undocumented, I cannot prove who I am because I don't have an identification?”

Sanchez said the IDs are not only important for law enforcement but for building community. The cards also come with benefits, like discounts at partner organizations.

“That allows our community to explore Mecklenburg County, explore the city and again, to belong to the community,” she said.

The city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests for comment about their community ID policies.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.
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