Good news for undocumented immigrants. The Biden administration is proposing a plan that would involve providing national ID cards to many immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. The card is supposed to give U.S. immigration officials and immigrants faster access to their records. The new card will make it easier for many undocumented immigrants in several areas, and one day the card will even be accepted by the Transportation Security Administration for travel within the United States.

ICE is completing the required pilot notifications to Congress, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is requesting $10 million to launch the program in FY 2023. An ICE spokesperson said that: quote “The details of the program are still being worked out, but the main goal of SDC is to improve the current inconsistent paper forms that often degrade quickly in the real world,” before adding that the agency plans to launch a pilot program by the end of the year.

The reasons behind the Biden administration’s policy to provide undocumented immigrants with a national ID card

The program is designed to ease the bureaucratic burden on the immigration system, which has historically had to stand in long lines for court hearings or register in person at government offices at various stages of the process. A national identification system could potentially streamline the current immigration system and improve efficiency and communication between undocumented immigrants, law enforcement, and government officials.

What will the new ID card offered to undocumented immigrants look like?

Details of the pilot program have not yet been finalized, but the ID card, known as the “Secure Docket Cards,” could include a photo, personal information, and a QR code that would give cardholders online access to their criminal information and immigration documents.

Will the card be a supplement to the Alternative to Detention Program?

Yes. Under current law, ICE “may or shall” release non-citizens on a case-by-case basis, a statement made by U.S. immigration officials. The legal documentation provided to non-citizens varies on a case-by-case basis. Before an immigrant can be released, asylum seekers must satisfy federal immigration officials that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country because of their race, creed, membership in a particular social group, or their political opinion.

From there, they must go through the immigration process to determine their authorization to remain in the United States or be deported. With a backlog of more than 1.6 million immigration cases, the asylum process can take years and asylum seekers must register with various U.S. immigration agencies.

SDC will make it easier for immigrants to check their court dates and apply to immigration officials, a requirement for Alternatives to Detention programs.

What is the Alternatives to Detention Program?

An Alternative to Detention (ATD) is a program that releases migrants from the custody of border agents and places them in a specific supervision program.  This program targets vulnerable immigrants such as unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, families with young children and nursing mothers.

Those in mandatory detention are not eligible for DTA, which often focuses on misdemeanors.

An increasing number of people have been placed on ATD since the Biden administration abandoned the Trump-era decision to close the program for asylum seekers.

Under the Trump administration, everyone has been detained, including families who are often held in family detention centers while awaiting court hearings.

What benefits does this new ID card bring to the lives of undocumented immigrants?

The proposed ID card would make the daily lives of undocumented immigrants in the United States easier. People without legal status often have more difficulty accessing necessities such as housing, health care, transportation, and state welfare programs. ID cards can also make it easier for undocumented immigrants to fly within the United States if the cards are accepted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA currently allows certain types of immigration documents as valid identification for travel.

Was this program previously applied locally in the United States?

This is a program that had existed for years at the local level, including in New York City. A 2015 announcement from the Mayor’s office promoted the program.

In it, Bill DeBlasio, the Democratic mayor of New York City at the time, said, quote, “IDNYC is a photo ID for all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.” The White House plan to issue temporary federal ID cards to undocumented immigrants is moving forward, and the House budget includes $10 million to help these immigrants better access all their immigration documents, health care, housing and transportation.

New York also wanted to expand access to allow some 800 million non-citizens to vote in local elections, but that legislation was recently rescinded, although similar proposals exist in other cities.

Is this program welcomed by the entire American political class?

Opinions remain divided on immigration in the United States. The migration issue has always been a contentious one in American politics. In a January 2022 interview on CNN’s State of the Union, New York City’s Democratic Mayor Eric Adams spoke out in favor of the program, saying he believes it is imperative that the people who are in a local municipality have the right to decide who will govern them.” According to the Biden administration, photo IDs are issued to get undocumented immigrants into the system, where they are more accessible and can also work and live in the shadows.

But there are also people who take the opposite view. Critics fear that issuing ID cards to undocumented immigrants will encourage more people to try to enter the U.S. illegally.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), has also spoken out on the issue of issuing ID cards to undocumented immigrants. In his view, the federal government essentially condones and blesses illegal immigration. In an interview on Monday, he believes that the government intends to propose an ID card that violates the federal law that requires immigrants to be detained during immigration proceedings.

He added quote, “What the administration is doing is not only not detaining people who are crossing the border illegally as required by law but actually giving them government documents. They are documenting the undocumented.”

In a statement, the ICE spokesperson believes that: A quote…. “The ICE Secure Docket Card (SDC) program is part of a pilot program to modernize various forms of documentation provided to provisionally released non-citizens through a consistent and verifiable secure card. The secure card will contain a photo, biographical identifiers, and state-of-the-art security features for the mutual benefit of the government and non-citizens.”

He made it clear in his remarks that the specifics of the program are still under development, but one of the main goals of SDC is to improve upon the current inconsistent paper forms that often degrade quickly in the real world. Pending the results of the pilot, ICE may consider further expansion of the program.

Frequently Asked Question

Does SDC apply only to immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border?

Initially, yes. But an ICE spokesperson said the agency would consider scaling up based on the success of the pilot program.

The administration hopes to get the necessary approval from Congress before the November elections.

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