BALTIMORE, MD (The Baltimore Sun) – The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore will issue identity cards to undocumented immigrants and other vulnerable people that the Baltimore Police Department has agreed to recognize — a program activists hope will make people more willing to cooperate with law enforcement.
Mayor Catherine Pugh and Archbishop William E. Lori joined church and community leaders Wednesday at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Canton, which is home to a large immigrant congregation and will run a pilot of the card system.
Pugh said that if the card gives even one person the confidence to report a crime, it will be a success.
“No one should become a victim and be afraid to call the police,” Pugh said.
The program is the city’s latest effort to aid immigrants, whom city leaders see having a significant role boosting the health of some neighborhoods.
The Police Department plays only a minimal role in enforcing immigration laws — which are a federal matter — and in March the city approved $200,000 in funding for lawyers to represent people facing deportation.
Advocates for immigrant communities say people without legal status in the United States are reluctant to come forward as victims or witnesses of crime. They say helping immigrants get an identity card from a trusted institution — the Catholic Church — will make people more comfortable talking to officers.
Pugh committed to the program at a town hall meeting in June.
Lori said the program has the backing of the archdiocese and its designers hope that vulnerable immigrants will be more willing to come forward and deal with the church, rather than the government, to get an identity document.
“Together, we are standing here. We are sending a clear message,” Lori said. “People have a right to be safe. People have a right to live in a city where we see each other as neighbors and friends, rather than strangers and enemies.”
To qualify for a card, an applicant will need to have been a member of a parish for three months, present other identity documents and have a witness testify to their identity. The cards will be linked to parish membership records, but there will not be a specific database of cardholders, which could guard against any future attempt by federal immigration officials to track cardholders.
Each card will bear the holder’s picture, the Sacred Heart parish logo and contact information for the church.
Maryland issues drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants, but requires applicants to have evidence they filed state taxes for two years or proof of residency. Advocates say immigrants often find the process difficult to successfully navigate.
Rachel Brooks, an organizer with the BUILD church coalition that helped design the program, said she expects several hundred people to sign up for the cards right away and that thousands of people might ultimately be interested.