Rollout of the long anticipated Johnson County Community ID begins Friday, another Midwestern first courtesy of the People’s Republic.
The cards, primarily offered for people who have difficulty accessing state-issued identification, have been used in some metropolitan areas for years. Johnson County will be the first in Iowa or the Midwest to give community IDs a try.
Advocates — and I count myself among them — believe the cards offer an extra measure of dignity and security.
All residents, even those with a state-issued ID card or driver’s license, can get a Johnson County Community ID. The cards can be used at participating businesses for discounts or other promotions.
That said, they are most useful to members of the community who could be marginalized for one reason or another — the elderly, undocumented immigrants, those in poverty and the homeless.
They can’t be used to access state services. For instance, they aren’t used to obtain a driver’s license or for voter registration. But they can be used to establish a bank account or obtain a library card. Since they can be used during interactions with schools and law enforcement, they provide an air of inclusiveness and legitimacy that may help victims report crimes or seek medical attention.
This was the impetus behind the community ID program that began March 2008 in Asbury Park, N.J. Several immigrants had been robbed and mugged and one man was gunned down. Victims were hesitant to report because of their status and language barriers.
Community and faith leaders searched for a solution. One of those on the front lines was Eve Sanchez Silver, a Latino liaison for Asbury Park.
“I believe people who are here in America must be safe and must be healthy. If they’re not safe, we’re not going to be safe. If they’re not healthy, we’re not going to be healthy,” she said.
She believes the community cards are like retail membership cards: Not state, not federal, but still identifying an individual as a valuable member of a community.
The Johnson County cards are not free, although costs were determined in an effort to make the program sustainable, not profitable. Prices are $8 for adults and $4 for children. There’s also a small replacement cost if the card is lost or if an address changes.
Documents establishing identification and residency — passports, birth certificates, green cards, utility bills, rental agreements, etc. — are required. Many options are available; a list is on the Johnson County website.
Despite ongoing safeguards and potential benefits, there will be some who disagree with the program or disregard it as one more check mark on Johnson County’s list of “crazy liberal” ideas. Maybe such disgruntlement can be eased by considering it as one more response to a failed federal immigration policy that shows no signs of improvement.
Until that happens, until we have comprehensive reform in lieu of witch hunts, society will be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalized. All Iowa communities could learn from the example set by Johnson County. See you in line.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on July 11, 2015. Photo credit: Brian Ray/The Gazette