Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Providing Identification to Unauthorized Immigrants Benefits Everyone in the U.S.
Press Release

RELEASE: Providing Identification to Unauthorized Immigrants Benefits Everyone in the U.S.

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new report looking at the innovative solutions that different states, localities, and other institutions across the country are creating—within the existing legal framework and given the current stalling of executive actions on immigration and comprehensive immigration reform—to provide all individuals, including unauthorized immigrants, with access to some form of valid government-issued identification, or ID.

“Providing Identification to Unauthorized Immigrants” surveys the state and local landscape of identification for unauthorized immigrants and looks at the societal benefits that expanding access to and acceptance of identification cards and driver’s licenses for unauthorized immigrants would bring to the United States. The report looks at three main types of identification: driver’s licenses, municipal ID cards, and consular IDs.

“The states and localities implementing common-sense policies to solve the problem of identification are a model for the nation and other states to follow,” said Silva Mathema, CAP Policy Analyst and author of the report. “Having an ID helps people integrate into everyday life. It eases interactions with law enforcement, government officials, banks, and local businesses. Increasing access to driver’s licenses makes roads safer for everyone; enhancing trust between the immigrant community and law enforcement makes entire communities safer; and making basic services accessible to everyone brings communities together.”

As the report details, there are currently 12 states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont, and Washington—in addition to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, that issue cards that give driving privileges to unauthorized immigrants, while many other states are debating these types of laws. Since January 2015, for example, California has issued more than 510,000 driver’s licenses to individuals who cannot prove legal presence, and its law includes an anti-discrimination provision.

Municipal ID cards provide access to a range of services: They can be used to open bank accounts, as debit cards, at parking meters, and to access library cards. Many cities and municipalities—such as New York City, which has issued more than 570,000 IDNYC cards—are looking into municipal ID programs to make their communities more inclusive.

For their part, consular IDs give individuals an additional option for identification—sometimes, the only option—allowing them to open bank accounts and get birth certificates. In total, 371 counties, 356 financial institutions, and 1,036 police departments accept Mexican consular IDs as a valid form of ID.

The report also includes a set of policy recommendations for states, cities, and localities implementing or seeking to implement these types of solutions:

  • States should issue driver’s licenses to all eligible individuals, regardless of immigration status.
  • States with REAL ID-noncompliant driver’s licenses marked with a recognizable feature need to ensure through regulation that there is no discrimination based on the marks.
  • Localities should pursue municipal ID card programs, while also raising awareness and acceptance of the cards.
  • Countries that issue or plan to issue consular IDs should improve security and awareness to increase their acceptability.
  • States and localities should establish policies to bar officials from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status.
  • Federal lawmakers should pass immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.

Access the full report, “Providing Identification to Unauthorized Immigrants,” here.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Tanya S. Arditi at or 202.741.6258.