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Trenton Gets it Right

August 31, 2010

New York Times Editorial Board

original article:

A coalition of community groups in Trenton is issuing photo identification cards to illegal immigrants. The cards are not government IDs, though they are accepted by many check-cashing companies, libraries, stores, and medical clinics, and at public parks and pools.

Giving unofficial IDs to undocumented immigrants defies the prevailing winds in other states and localities, where the public mood, and sometimes local statute, defines all immigrants without papers as criminals. These places make no distinction between dangerous law-breakers and peaceable workers and families, between those who harm a community and those who build it up.

They see the difference in Trenton — and in Princeton, New Haven, San Francisco and other cities. The Trenton police and the Mercer County sheriff and prosecutor’s office have endorsed the cards. Trenton’s coalition — a project of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund — includes churches, civic associations, the Fire Department and public schools.

All these groups, most significantly the law enforcement agencies, know that having ID is vital to fighting crime, treating the sick and injured, and making business and society function. They know that a community of anonymous members is no community at all.

In Arizona, a new law enshrines the opposite view. “The intent of this act is to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona,” it says. “Attrition through enforcement” is the fantasy that illegal immigrants will deport themselves by the millions if the government can make them sufficiently miserable and frightened.

Arizona and Trenton are both grappling with a broken immigration system, where millions live outside the law. Arizona’s approach is: Stay anonymous and afraid and then maybe you’ll get out. Trenton’s is: Tell us who you are, and help us build a community. Neither solution will solve the big problem. But it is clear which is the more effective, humane and responsible.

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