A new ID card program could turn strangers into neighbors, organizers say, and help law enforcement and residents work better together.
The Faith ID Network of Orange County will hold its first identification card drive for up to 150 people on Saturday, Feb. 13, at St. Thomas More Catholic Church. The program, based on a Greensboro model, provides residents with ID cards, information and local connections.
“We are very excited,” said Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, president of El Centro Hispano. “We started the conversation with Chapel Hill and Carrboro and the sheriff, and then talked to them about this ID, and they agreed to the program, because they see it as helping them with their work.”
Greensboro groups started the conversation with police about the FaithAction ID program in 2012, said the Rev. David Fraccaro, executive director of FaithAction International House. It was the nation’s first nonprofit-sponsored ID card program, issuing roughly 4,500 cards in three years.
The card identifies someone as a community member but isn’t a government-issued ID card or a driver’s license. A 2015 law prohibits government officials from accepting the cards, but advocates secured a last-minute amendment that lets police use it to confirm someone’s identity.
They’re useful for immigrants, officials said, but also for older residents who lack birth records or are homebound, people with special needs, and LGBTQ residents who want a card that doesn’t list their gender.
“In the United States, without a verifiable form of ID, it’s like you don’t exist,” Fraccaro said. “It makes life extremely hard.”
Law enforcement officials see the program as another tool for connecting with residents, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said, some of whom may be uncomfortable talking with police or afraid that reporting a crime might lead to deportation.
“Local law enforcement agencies, recognizing that a locally validated ID is preferable to nothing at all, have enthusiastically endorsed this idea. And, schools, health centers and businesses, depending on their individual policies, often accept this identification, too,” he said.
Hillsborough Police Chief Duane Hampton said he was not aware of the program, but his department has been talking separately with a local church about trying something similar. They might be interested in joining the Faith ID Network, he said, but they need more information first.
Faith ID Network applicants will be required to attend an orientation session, provide proof of their address and bring a photo ID – a passport, foreign national ID card, current or expired driver’s license, or matricula consular. The ID cards feature anti-fraud hologram technology, cost $10 and must be renewed each year.
El Centro’s contact information is printed on the back, so people can call if they have questions.
The application process also provides local agencies with an opportunity to share information about other programs and services, officials said, from how to use the library to Parks and Recreation programs and when to call 911 or contact police.
It sounds like time well spent, Blue said.
“That’s one of those benefits that’s perhaps more difficult to quantify,” he said, “but we certainly recognize that positive interactions with our officers in a setting that is non-threatening, nothing but good can come from that. The idea that that means someone’s more comfortable calling 911 at some point in the future, or more likely to share information with us, or more likely to ask for help, those are really good outcomes.”
The program is community-funded and led, but Fraccaro said police play an important role, getting to know residents and making connections that have helped to resolve numerous cases.
A survey found about 90 percent of cardholders thought the IDs were “very useful,” Fraccaro said, and “made them feel safer in the community.”
“We started seeing people coming forward, and started getting good reports from the police department,” he said.
Similar programs started in Burlington last year and most recently in Winston-Salem.
Burlington Police Chief Jeff Smythe said the response there was so huge that they turned people away before doubling their capability. Roughly 18 percent of Alamance County’s residents are Hispanic, and the program has issued nearly 1,000 IDs in the last year, he said.
Meeting residents is one of the most fun and rewarding thing he does every month, Smythe said.
“We talk about the U.S. Constitution, we talk about arrest and booking procedures, why we ask what country they’re from, those kinds of things,” he said. “It’s not about deporting people; it’s about complying with the State Department and consular notification. They don’t get any of that until we stop and say that’s why we do this."
Elon, Graham and Mebane also participate, he said, and Wake County’s law enforcement agencies had a “robust conversation” about the benefits and concerns at a recent meeting.
It’s a great community outreach, Apex Police Chief John Letteney said, but they have concerns about using expired licenses, matricula consulars and other papers to prove someone’s identity. The FBI also has expressed concerns about using those documents, he said.
The Raleigh Police Department and Wake County Sheriff’s Office haven’t made a decision yet, their spokesmen said.
The Garner Police Department, which hosted the meeting, could start a program later this year, Sgt. Chris Adams said. The ID cards may be most helpful when officers interact with immigrants and the homeless, he said.
“I’ve been in situations where you can’t get a good ID on someone,” Adams said. “You don’t want to arrest the wrong person.”
The Faith ID Network of Orange County will hold a ID card drive from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, 940 Carmichael St. in Chapel Hill. Doors open at 7:30 a.m., and there is room for 150 people.
Applicants should bring proof of identification (passport, national ID card, matricula consular, driver’s license) and proof of their current address with a date from the previous three months (utility bill, lease agreement, bank statement, medical record, approved ID with address).
Information is available at El Centro Hispano, 201 W. Weaver St., Carrboro, or call 919-945-0132; or St. Thomas More Catholic Church, call 919-942-6239.