An ID for Those Who Can't Get a License

Jun 6, 2019

If you’re an immigrant, someone who just got out of prison or are homeless, it could be difficult to get a picture ID. They might lack the documents required for a government-issued card or be reluctant to deal with a state agency. That’s why some churches are working with local governments and police to offer another form of identification.

It’s not a government issued ID, so you can’t use it to vote or drive, but the cards provided through two churches and a community group can be used to rent a hotel room, start utilities, get a library card or social services.

“When you want to enroll your kids in school they need proof of address.  They accept our address.  For some prescription drugs you need an ID,” says Russ Linden,  head of a task force appointed to promote good relations between Charlottesville and new residents from other countries.

Charlottesville is the first city in Virginia to offer a new kind of identification for those who can't get a driver's license.

“Most of the people who have come are immigrants.  Most of them are religious – often Catholic, and they feel comfortable in a church.  People who sign up for the ID don’t worry that someone is going to come in the middle of the night,” he explains.

Local police and sheriff’s deputies have also agreed to accept these cards as a form of ID, and Linden says people have lined up to get one when they’re offered on the first Saturday of the month.

“They knew we didn’t open until 8 o’clock, and I was there at 6:30," Linden recalls. "I said, ‘What time did you get here?’  ‘Five.’  The second drive we had 173, the word’s getting around.  I came early.  There were 50 people here.  ‘What time did you get here?’ The earliest ones -- 4 o’clock in the morning!”

Asked why they were so anxious to have the card, people explained that they live here.  Their passport may say Mexico or Honduras, but they consider themselves Virginia residents and want to be viewed that way.