Oakland Says Charge It, Instead of Charge Them, with Debit/ID Card Undocumented Immigrants Can Use

Friday, March 01, 2013


Undocumented Oakland residents were offered a unique choice at the beginning of February: they could obtain the nation’s first combo municipal identification/debit card and run a higher risk of fraud, or stick with cash and run the higher risk of getting mugged.

It’s been five years since New Haven, Connecticut, became the first city in the nation to issue municipal identification cards—often utilized by undocumented immigrants lacking proper ID—but Oakland is the first to add the debit card feature. While giving people cheaper and more convenient access to their money, however, it also gives strangers cheaper and more convenient access to their money.

The debit cards have the personal information embossed on them that identity thieves strive to obtain: name, address and date of birth. Although the cards have an optional safety feature that sends a text message when used, it’s hard not to imagine an uptick in identity theft among people who barely have identities.

It is not an issue unaddressed during the four years the debit ID cards were discussed in Oakland, but supporters see the ID risk as far superior to living in a cash economy. The card also permits the holder easier access to health care facilities and city services, while giving otherwise undocumented immigrants a level of security in reporting crime to the authorities.

That argument has not been lost on those who want to crack down on illegal immigration and think that sanctuary cities like Oakland and San Francisco, which have public policies not to chase down the undocumented, are inducing people to break federal laws with ID cards. A group of anti-immigration activists tried to obtain the list of persons who received cards in New Haven, in order to pluck out those with Latino surnames for federal authorities. They were rebuffed on privacy grounds.  

The Oakland ID card is marketed by SF Global, in association with MasterCard and the Minnesota-based University National Bank. The company CEO and chairman is Raul Hinojosa, a UCLA professor and founding director of the North American Integration and Development Center, which focuses on migration and globalization.

Oakland is pre-registering applicants now and is expected to issue cards around March 15. The city expects around 6,000 people to sign up the first year.   

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Oakland Unveils City ID and Debit Card (by Matthew Artz, Oakland Tribune)

Oakland’s Municipal ID, Debit Card Program to Launch February 1 (by Angela Hart, Oakland North)

Debit ID Raises Concern of Fraud (by Matthai Kuruvila, San Francisco Chronicle)

Oakland to Issue IDs that Double as Debit Cards (by Richard Gonzales, NPR)

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