At the city council's public safety committee meeting this afternoon, City Council meber and committee chair Bruce Harrell took pains to make it clear that he was merely interested in "exploring the possibility" of a municipal Seattle ID (not pushing it) for people who lacked access to or had trouble getting a Washington state ID.
Earlier this week, Harrell framed the ID idea as a social justice issue, arguing that "there can be serious barriers to acquire a Washington state identification card for some residents, and without ID, people can face challenges in accessing important services."
The following day, Mayor Ed Murray's new Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs director Cuc Vu, echoed by Murray, expressed skepticism about the idea, noting that Washington IDs are available to undocumented immigrants and others who can't show proof of residency and worrying that a special city ID could create a "separate caste of people" marked as being unable to secure state ID. (That may be true, but Republicans in Olympia have repeatedly tried to pass bills connecting IDs to immigration status; the issue flared up notably during the recession.)
Today's discussion fell somewhere in the middle, with Harrell noting—channeling Common—that in order to get a Washington state ID, you have to show two forms of ID (or some other proof of state residence), which can be tough if you're homeless or just moved here from another country (it takes about a month for recent immigrants and refugees to get a Social Security Card.)
"We know that certain communities have a lower rate of out-of-state IDs—recent refugees or recent arrivals are one," said outgoing interim Immigrant and Refugee Affairs director Aaliyah Gupta, as, she said, are transgender people—who aren't allowed to self-identify their gender.
Jorge Barón, director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said he saw both sides of the issue. On one hand, Barón said, "If it's only labeled as addressing undocumented populations, the concern would be that it would be ... used to ID people who are identified as not having [legal] status here in the U.S."
On the other hand, he said, "I think that it is something we should explore, because I think making sure that everyone in the community has access to resources is important. ... Certainly, I'm confident that there are people for whom this proposal would be a benefit."
Another question: If the city does decide to adopt a municipal ID, how much proof of identification should it require, and what kind? "If we set the bar fairly high, then we're just replicating the state ID issue," Barón said. On the other hand, if the city sets the bar too low, it could open the door to identity fraud.
Emphasizing, again, his agnosticism on the issue (however enthusiastic he may have sounded two days ago), Harrell concluded the meeting by announcing that the committee planned to "put a placeholder on this conversation and do some more research" before bringing the issue of municipal IDs up again.
Harrell did not return calls for comment on the proposal or Murray's and Vu's comments yesterday.