EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Up to 70,000 El Paso County residents are unable to prove who they are if stopped by the police for lack of government-issued IDs, community activists say.

Many of these residents are also unable to open bank accounts, request some government services, or in some cases pick up children from schools because their immigration status or other factors prevent them from securing such documents.

That’s why a coalition of grassroots groups this week dropped off the last of 13,000 signatures at El Paso City Hall in support of an initiative called Municipal ID that failed to get funding in 2017 when former Mayor Dee Margo cast a tie-breaking vote in the City Council.

“Almost 10 percent of El Paso residents – people that live and work hard in the community – don’t have any form of identification,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. “This is a major problem, not just lack of IDs, but leaving a population (marginalized). This is affecting immigrant families, people in homelessness situations, veterans and transgender members of our community.”

BNHR and other groups are calling on city officials to vote to establish the program and fund its implementation in the next fiscal year budget.

“We are expecting the city to make the right decision this time and mandate the creation of a municipal ID program in the budget,” Garcia said.

Border Report requested comment from Mayor Oscar Leeser but did not immediately receive a response.

BNHR Policy Director Betty Camargo said the group will set up a phone bank to urge residents to contact their city council representatives urging support for the program. The activists say San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles already operate their own identification card programs and that El Paso County officials support the proposal, too.

The activists described the card as a sort of enhanced library card that verifies one’s identity and physical residence.  

Border Agricultural Workers Center Executive Director Carlos Marentes noted that Texas doesn’t issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

“To provide identification cards to those in our community who do not have it is an act of justice, an act of inclusion,” he said. “It is the city telling them, ‘You are part of this community, you count.’ We are asking the city of El Paso, the local authorities to act now.”

Yvonne Alvarez, a resident of Socorro, Texas, said she has been denied medication for her children at some drug stores because of the lack of a government identification card. She said she would benefit from a city-issued ID.

“We are not dropping the issue. We will come back as many times as possible for the city to recognize this as an important issue,” Garcia said.