The Archdiocese of Baltimore will create its own form of identification card for members of churches, an alternative to government-issued identification that church leaders hope will make immigrants and others who have trouble obtaining identification feel safer in the city.
The mayor of Baltimore has endorsed the plan, and Baltimore’s police force said it will recognize the new “parish ID” as a valid form of identification.
“No one in our city should live in fear,” Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) said at a news conference Wednesday at which she announced the new form of identification alongside Archbishop of Baltimore William Lori. “The parish ID supports our effort to build what I consider to be an inclusive city, that takes into account the sometimes insurmountable obstacles to establish official residency identification due to, as has been pointed out, unstable housing … gender identity, immigrant status or any other barriers.”
While some activists who support immigrants in Baltimore worked to establish the new ID and celebrated its creation, others said the new ID has only limited efficacy compared with farther-reaching government efforts.
The primary purpose of the ID card that the mayor and the archbishop cited Wednesday is making residents of the city feel safe contacting the police, if they find themselves the victim of or a witness to a crime. Baltimore has already taken steps to ensure that residents don’t need a photo ID at all to access most city services, and the city and the church don’t know whether private institutions such as banks will accept the parish ID as valid identification.
“This city-sanctioned, church-approved [identification] is one step toward helping many who feel marginalized find a measure of peace of mind here in Baltimore where they live,” said the Rev. Bruce Lewandowski, who worked with the activist group Build to create the new ID. “The elderly, immigrants, so many young black men in our community, those who are vulnerable, who do not have ID are targeted by people who know that they won’t call the police. And today we’re changing that.”
Lori echoed him: “This ID provides one avenue to freedom from fear,” he said. “The ID makes it harder for residents of some of the most vulnerable communities to be targeted as victims of crime, assault and violence. It sadly happens all too often.”
While Build members said the parish ID is not intended as a substitute for a government-issued ID, Liz Alex, director of organizing at the immigrant aid group Casa de Maryland, said that the latter would be far more valuable to undocumented immigrants.
Immigrants can already access nongovernmental IDs, she said; Casa itself gives out a “membership card” that some immigrants use for the same purpose. But Build volunteers said that the parish ID would be the first nongovernmental ID that Baltimore police are trained to recognize.
Alex worried that some would fear signing up for a nongovernmental ID, out of concern that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents would somehow turn to the pool of people registered for parish IDs as targets for deportation, Alex said. Build leaders said they have been reassured by a similar parish ID program in Dallas, which they say has not put ID holders at risk of deportation.
In numerous cities, from New York to San Francisco, city governments issue IDs directly to residents who might not be able to obtain a driver’s license. Baltimore has passed a bill that would allow it to do the same, but has yet to roll out the ID cards; Maryland does already allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses under state law.
“Really what we need is the municipal ID card,” Alex said. “I just hope our mayor and our council members don’t accept this as a substitute for what we really need and what we’ve already passed.”
Many schools require government-issued ID for parents to enter the building, Alex said, and banks require government-issued ID to open an account. The creators of the parish ID say theirs should be paired with a municipal ID someday.
Alex thinks the parish ID might cut down on false arrests, when a person is apprehended for resembling a suspect and can’t verify his identity, but won’t necessarily increase confidence in the police.
“It’s more about what they do and less about the card,” she said. “Because word gets around. As soon as you have one person have a successful interaction with a police officer, that’s the best advertising ever. As soon as you have a bad interaction — someone is arrested because they don’t have ID, someone is reported to immigration enforcement — that’s going to be your worst nightmare.”
Baltimore, like many cities, has a long-standing custom of generally staying out of immigration enforcement, and Baltimore police generally avoid inquiring about suspects' or witnesses' immigration status.
The parish ID card would be clearly marked as “not a government-issued ID card,” Lewandowski said. The card would have the name and address of the parish church that issued it to the parishioner, along with the cardholder’s photograph and a church-issued ID number.
The Baltimore Sun reported that to qualify, a cardholder must have been a member of a parish for at least three months and provide other identifying documentation as well as a witness who can verify his or her identity.
The requirement for church membership limits the card to Catholics. While Pugh cited gender identity as one reason some people have trouble getting ID, Monica Stevens, the outreach coordinator of the Baltimore Transgender Alliance, said that she isn’t sure many transgender people in Baltimore will turn to the church for this service.
Other local organizations offer free legal aid for transgender people seeking IDs that match their gender identity, she said, and many transgender people aren’t comfortable in a church that teaches that the gender a person is assigned at birth should be immutable.
““I personally, if I had to join a church to get my name changed, then I probably wouldn’t have my name changed today,” Stevens said.
But Pugh said the effort to train police and other city employees to recognize the parish ID will be worthwhile if the new cards are valuable to even a small number of Baltimore residents. “If this identification helps one person pick up the phone and call the police, it has done what it’s supposed to do,” she said, to applause.
This story has been updated to include more information from Build, the creators of the parish ID card.