CINCINNATI -- Just months after Cincinnati embraced a new program to help immigrants and homeless people get photo ID cards, more than 1,100 have already been distributed.
Cincinnati City Council approved the program in May to help people who don’t have traditional government identification, such as new immigrants and people just released from prison.
The first time that Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati (MARCC) and Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio began distributing the cards on Aug. 20, more than 600 people stood in line outside Woodward High School to get one. Some slept outside overnight.
“It was pretty surprising. A little overwhelming, but it was amazing to see,” said Catholic Charities COO Alisa Berry. “We thought, wow, we are able to fulfill a great need.”
The agencies were so overwhelmed that they could only help 350 people that day, and had to another card drive to help the overflow crowd.
“I think that first event, it was so important to them because it symbolized they were part of the community. They weren’t outsiders because their ID was in a different language,” Berry said. “It also initially reduced fear … because it gave them a sense of belonging.”
The idea is based on a program in Greensboro, North Carolina, where a group called FaithAction worked with local police to provide identification to residents who might not have access to other forms of government ID. The group has reportedly distributed thousands of ID cards to people ranging from new immigrants to an octogenarian whose birth records no longer exist.
At each MARCC card drive in Cincinnati, police officers talk about community safety and how people who only speak limited English should interact if they are stopped by the police.
"The bottom line is: We are all committed to safety, and this measure will allow citizens to feel safe about talking to the police when they may not normally have been, and feel that they can report crimes and be able to identify themselves and not see police as a threat to them," Chief Eliot Isaac said at a press conference in May announcing the plan.
Both Isaac and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley have been supportive of the ID cards, though the city does not run the program and doesn't have a list of those with the ID cards.
Cranley attends the card drives to meet people and take photos with them. He also gives a speech welcoming them to the city.
“It was very inspiring, people trying to become good Americans. They love our community and want to figure out how to get involved … it’s the American dream,” Cranley said. “I think that Cincinnati is a welcoming community and we intend to continue to welcome immigrants to Cincinnati.”
In order to get a MARCC card, applicants must show some existing ID, such as a passport or expired driver’s license, in addition to proof of address, such as a utility bill. The cards cost $15 and last a year.
The card is a valid form of identification only within the city of Cincinnati. For example, the MARCC card is considered valid identification to allow people to get city water turned on at their homes.
But the ID card is not valid identification for state or federal services. It doesn’t allow people to vote, and it’s not a replacement for a driver’s license or a state identification.
So far most of the people buying the cards have been immigrants. But Catholic Charities has also held a card drive at Volunteers of America for people who are about to leave prison and re-enter society.
“For those people when they leave prison they are given a prison ID that can sometimes be seen as negative when they show people,” said Kelly Anchrum, director of marketing and communications for Catholic Charities.
In January Catholic Charities will hold a card drive at a local homeless shelter.
The group has tentatively planned their next open card drive for Feb. 18, 2017 at Woodward High School in Bond Hill. Their monthly drives are usually held on the third Saturday.