Push for county IDs for undocumented residents clears early vote in Miami-Dade

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Miami-Dade County moved closer Wednesday to establishing new identification cards for undocumented residents, people experiencing homelessness and others who can’t obtain state IDs or don’t want them.

County commissioners gave near unanimous approval to a long-stalled proposal for an outside group to issue ID cards with Miami-Dade’s approval, an arrangement designed to avoid the creation of a government database of undocumented residents subject to public-record laws.

Broward and Palm Beach counties already have similar programs with non-profits, and advocates said the cards would make COVID-19 testing and vaccinations far more appealing to Miami-Dade’s sizable undocumented population.

“They have been so nervous, because patching together an identity in the beginning to get a vaccine terrified them,” said sponsor Eileen Higgins, whose district includes Little Havana, with a large population of residents who aren’t U.S. citizens. “This would give something that said you live in Miami-Dade County. We recognize it.”

Commissioner Joe Martinez was the lone no vote, citing potential for identity theft, fraud and special confidentiality measures not afforded holders of Florida driver licenses. “If we have all of our records out in the open, so should they,” he said.

The vote was a major victory for backers of the ID card program, which has languished for years before the commission. Commissioner Juan C. Zapata, who held Martinez’s seat until 2016, was the first sponsor.

Zapata’s proposal passed to its second sponsor, Daniella Levine Cava, then a county commissioner and now the mayor. Her ID proposal died last year after the county’s police director, Freddy Ramirez, came out against it. Now part of the Levine Cava administration, Ramirez urged commissioners to approve the program.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to not be able to get social services they need,” Ramirez said in a recent interview. “It’s a humanitarian issue, and that comes first.”

Even with the Wednesday win, Levine Cava still must secure commission support for a final ID card plan. That includes her choice for the outside group to administer it. While she and Higgins wanted a non-profit to issue the cards using grant funds, the tag-agency industry is lobbying to have its for-profit offices administer the program.

The resolution passed Wednesday also leaves for a future vote what details will be included on the ID card, what it will look like and other rules for securing the identification.

Miami-Dade would sanction the cards, and decide which agencies would accept them. The IDs wouldn’t qualify holders to vote or drive, but could allow holders to obtain library cards, park rentals and other Miami-Dade services that require some form of identification.

“We have danced in this chamber on this before,” said Commissioner Sally Heyman, first elected to the board in 2002. “But we didn’t have an opportunity to make amends.”

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