Community ID program unaffected by new law

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FaithAction held a successful ID drive in Greensboro last month. (courtesy photo)

by Jordan Green

The FaithAction ID program is expanding from Greensboro to Winston-Salem despite a restrictive bill signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory in October. The agency has continued partnerships with local police departments thanks to an obscure legislative maneuver that provides an exception allowing law enforcement to accept the IDs as a last resort.

FaithAction, the Greensboro-based nonprofit responsible for issuing an ID used by undocumented immigrants to identify themselves to law enforcement officials, is expanding the program into Winston-Salem.

The agency is hosting an ID drive at SouthEast Plaza Shopping Center, anchored by Que Pasa Media Network, on Friday. Both the Winston-Salem Police Department and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office confirmed they will have representatives on hand.

Despite a controversial bill signed by Gov. Pat McCrory that limited how local governments can recognize the identification cards, commonly known as FaithAction IDs, the Greensboro agency has continued to expand its program. A community dialogue between police and members of the Latino community drew 500 people in Asheboro in late November, and the agency conducted its largest ever drive, with 375 people signing up, in Greensboro just before Christmas.

WANT TO GO? The FaithAction ID drive starts at 9 a.m. on Friday at SouthEast Plaza Shopping Center, located at 3025 Waughtown St. in Winston-Salem.

Among other uses, the IDs are sometimes presented to law enforcement officers during traffic stops by undocumented immigrants who have no other form of identification.

Public Information Officer Susan Danielsen confirmed that the Greensboro Police Department is still accepting the FaithAction IDs.

Gov. McCrory came to Greensboro to sign the Protect North Carolina Workers Act while seated next to Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes during a ceremony at Barnes’ office on Oct. 28. Rep. Debra Conrad, a Republican from Winston-Salem, was one of the four primary sponsors of the bill, which declared that an identity document “issued or created by any person, organization, county, city, or other local authority” without express authorization by the state is not acceptable for use in determining a person’s actual identity or residency” by a law enforcement officer or other government official. The bill also outlawed the use of the matricula consular for official use in determining a person’s identity.

“We cannot allow our local officials and towns and cities throughout North Carolina to make up their own rules that conflict with our nation’s laws and our nation’s values,” the governor declared before signing the bill into law.

Proponents of the FaithAction ID program saw the governor’s decision to sign the law in Greensboro — an unusual move — as a slap in the face of local ID efforts that had included Greensboro Police Department support.

It’s been an open secret for months — widely publicized by FaithAction and Latino media outlets — that a key provision of the legislation had already been effectively nullified before the signing ceremony in Greensboro.

Rep. George Cleveland, a Jacksonville Republican who sponsored the bill with Conrad, filed an amendment in a separate so-called “technical corrections” bill provides that that law enforcement officers may accept community IDs, after all, but only “when they are the only documents providing an indication of the identity or residency available to the law enforcement officer at the time.” Since the IDs are already a last identification of resort, effectively the new law makes no changes in how law enforcement officers should treat people who present the IDs during traffic stops.

Cleveland filed the amendment on Sept. 29, the day the Protect North Carolina Workers Act passed its third reading in the House. The day before, Greensboro police Chief Wayne Scott and Burlington police Capt. Jeff Wood had joined a clergy and others for a press conference expressing support for the FaithAction ID. David Fraccaro, the executive director of FaithAction, said his agency has maintained a partnership with the Greensboro Police Department for more than three years, logging hundreds of hours of dialogue between residents and police officers. The Burlington Police Department later signed on with the program, and since then the cities of Raleigh, Durham, Asheville and Cincinnati have also expressed interest.

“Over the last several years we’ve been working hard to build relations with that community, and we feel like the FaithAction ID has helped,” Wood said during the press conference. “If they limit the kind of IDs we can accept, we’re going to have a whole lot more people arrested and thrown in jail tying up our law-enforcement resources.”

Fraccaro said he believes lobbying by law enforcement officials played a critical role in getting the exception included in the technical corrections bill.

“Thankfully, when it came to the ID provision piece, some of the law enforcement led by folks in Burlington and Greensboro — who I think with other departments basically understood the value of the program — spoke up,” he said. “They understood that that trust has truly led to greater cooperation and reporting of crimes. Recognizing that, they spoke up for it and got it in the [corrections] bill. I don’t think that would have happened without their advocacy.”

Fraccaro noted that the bill still prohibits judges, clerks, magistrates and other government officials from accepting the IDs, making them useless for a woman attempting to obtain a 50B domestic violence restraining order, someone seeking a marriage license or a person who needs to activate a municipal water account.

Fraccaro emphasized that the ID is available to all residents.

“There are some elderly residents who needed to have some emergency health procedures and they couldn’t get all their documentation together who have used it,” he said. “There are homeless individuals who may have lost their ID and can’t get a driver’s license. We’ve had clergy and city council members who have come through and love getting an ID. While the vast majority happen to be immigrants, we are stressing that the more we can get people who are willing to stand in line and stand side by side with our newest neighbors, the better.”

Fraccaro said he expect 200 to 300 people to show up to obtain the IDs during the drive in Winston-Salem on Friday. Representatives of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and the Winston-Salem Police Department attended a training on Dec. 4 with local volunteers to prepare for the rollout. Lt. Tyrone Phelps confirmed that the Winston-Salem Police Department will have representatives on hand at the ID drive on Friday “for support and to answer questions.”

FaithAction will have photographic and ID-making equipment available on site.

“Once everybody is seated and has a document, we’ll start with an orientation, including some of the history of the program,” Fraccaro said. “After that is the dialogue with the police department and the sheriff’s department. We only take 10 people at a time, so you have 200 people listening to the police department, asking questions, and engaging in dialogue back and forth. We try to do it in English and Spanish. French tends to be the third most requested language. The first half is about getting the ID. The second half is about dialogue and building trust.”

Phelps said the police department supports the ID drive, although he said the department cannot endorse the IDs themselves.

“We support the ID drive because it’s another way for us to build positive community relationships,” he said. “We support the ID cards because we would rather someone have ID than not. However we can’t endorse the ID cars as fact because it’s not government issued, as in it’s not coming from a city, state or county agency. Our officers will use it as a first step or a starting point. They will compare it to information we have in our database already and they will use interviewing skills to learn more.”

Phelps said the Winston-Salem Police Department is training officers to use their discretion when presented with a FaithAction ID, adding that the ID won’t give motorists any special privileges. Advocates have long raised the issue that undocumented immigrants who cannot legally obtain a state-issued drivers license may fear the police because a traffic stop for a simple equipment violation can lead to deportation.

Phelps said that’s still an option for Winston-Salem police officers.

“I can’t speak for every officer,” he said. “If one of our officers is out in the field and they stop someone and they don’t have the driver’s license and they don’t feel like during their investigative stop they can ascertain the individual’s identity with confidence they can make a physical arrest, detain them an take them downtown.”

Lonnie Albright, the police attorney for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, indicated that the IDs inspire confidence, although sheriff’s deputies, like their counterparts in the police department, will have the discretion to determine how to proceed after being presented with the IDs.

“These FaithAction IDs are not just given away willy-nilly,” he said. “Folks that obtain them are identified and they have to bring documentation. They pay a fee of $10 and it has a current photograph, and it’s only good for a year. It may be a tax receipt or a water bill or a lease agreement where they’re leasing an apartment. It has to be an original document — no photocopies. There’s a lot of different agencies that are doing this — Greensboro Police Department, Burlington Police Department, Graham, Elon, Mebane and lots of other departments. Statesville’s looking at it, along with Asheboro, Raleigh and Durham.

Albright indicated the sheriff’s office is looking at the program as an opportunity to avoid locking people up for minor infractions.

“It may make the difference between someone getting a citation and someone having to go to jail,” he said. “Trying to make neighbors out of strangers to develop trust between law enforcement and people that are new to this country, not just Hispanics, is what this is all about.”