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Oakland’s Municipal ID, debit card program to launch February 1

on January 3, 2013

Oakland officials have announced a launch date for the city’s new Municipal ID program, which would allow Oakland residents to apply for a city-issued identification card that can also be used as a debit card.

Oakland studied other cities that have implemented similar programs, including New Haven, Connecticut, and San Francisco, said Mayor Jean Quan, speaking to a room of reporters gathered at City Hall late Wednesday. But unlike the programs in those cities, Oakland’s identification cards will also include a debit function—a first in the United States—which would give banking access to people who don’t currently don’t have the documents required at large national banks, and which would create a safer alternative to carrying large amounts of cash around.

Quan, joined by outgoing District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente, who spearheaded Oakland’s program, said municipal identification cards will create protections for not only immigrants here, but also people who don’t want to state their sex, as well as young people, by giving them a legal way to identify themselves when necessary. This could be useful for undocumented immigrants who need to access healthcare, for example, or for young people who aren’t old enough to have a driver’s license. Quan said some advantages of the card will include being able to access services in the city where IDs are required, such as healthcare centers or banks.

But encouraging residents to report crime was the underlying goal, she said. When undocumented immigrants witness or are victims of crime, and are contacted by local law enforcement in the course of reporting it, they’re asked for identification. “There are a lot of people who have been part of this community for a long time who have raised their families here, who are undocumented, and who live in constant fear,” Quan said. “We’ve found that many people in the city, who are either victims of crime or witnesses to crime, that they’re reluctant to come forward—and one of he reasons they are reluctant is because of police policy to ask them for their ID.” City officials said that the new Municipal ID will give people a sense of security, because they won’t need to fear being deported based on their immigration status if they report a crime to the police.

Oakland, like San Francisco, is a sanctuary city, which means that the city doesn’t use local resources to enforce federal immigration laws. A city ordinance, introduced by De La Fuente, Quan and outdoing District 1 councilmember Jane Brunner, adopted by the council in 2007, states that “Oakland is a city of refuge for immigrants from all countries.” Oakland’s sanctuary city ordinance recognizes the contributions of immigrants to the economy, and points out that having an identification card will make it safer for some populations to report crime.

“The police department has direction from the top, from elected officials, not to participate with the INS—immigration laws are enforced by the federal government,” De La Fuente said. “The reality is that Oakland will be the first city with a municipal ID card that also works as a debit card. It’s long overdue, and it’s our job to make sure people are treated equally.”

The city has a target launch date for the cards of February 1. Then, residents can come to 250 Frank Ogawa Plaza and bring in any kind of photo ID, such as a student ID or an expired Visa card, as well as something that proves residence, like a water or phone bill, and get a city-issued ID. There will be a one-time $15 application fee, as well as a nominal charge to load the card with money.  Some of the details are still being worked out, said Arturo Sanchez, the assistant city administrator, but the fees are similar to what other banks charge. He said a fee for reloading the card would be $1 or $2.

The city ID card would act like any other debit card, and be accepted anywhere other cards are taken. The cards can be reloaded with any amount of money, at participating “loading points,” for which the city is expected to announce locations on February 1. When fully implemented, there will be five main banking centers located in different Oakland neighborhoods, where people could add money to cards and apply for new cards, as well as the additional “loading points.”

The program is not costing the city anything, Sanchez said. Any staff time being spent on the program will be paid back by the banking provider, SF Global, which has contracted with the city. “Our goal is to make sure that these banking services for the under-banked and non-banked residents of Oakland, which include people other than immigrants, are provided in an equitable and cost-efficient manner,” Sanchez said. “Everyone should have access to banking services, so they don’t have to rely on check cashing locations, or cash checks at local liquor stores, or carry large sums of money on their person.”

The city also received a $20,000 grant from One Pacific Bank to bring in a lawyer to consult on any legal issues that might arise with the program.

“These people are residents of our city—most of them pay taxes, and they contribute to the economy,” Quan said. “And the reality is that this nation is way overdue for immigration reform. These people who have been here for decades should have some pathway to be able to live here with dignity without being open to be victimized and exploited.”


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