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The Most Intriguing California Policy Idea of the Year

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There are all kinds of ideas about how to deal with our neighbors who are unauthorized immigrants. Yes, there are those who want to send them home, or believe in "self-deportation." But in California, the debate has been about how to manage the reality of their presence.

The state legislature has stirred controversy through repeated legislative fights over whether to offer driver licenses to unauthorized immigrants. Some California cities have gone so far as to offer them IDs that can be used to open bank accounts and serve as identification in certain government and business dealings.

But Los Angeles is now considering a new wrinkle on this issue that may be the most intriguing approach yet: library cards for the unauthorized.

The LA Times reports that city officials are considering issuing ID cards through the library that, in addition to empowering unauthorized immigrants to check out books, could be used for bank accounts and services.

This is a bit of policy and political genius. Libraries are used to issuing cards, so this makes sense practically. It also draws more people to the libraries, and that's good for both the libraries, and for unauthorized immigrants and their children.

And it isn't a driver license. Given the use of such licenses as a de facto national ID card, the granting of licenses to the unauthorized is going to be difficult, as policy and politics. But it will be much harder to object to library cards that can be used to open bank accounts. To those who do, the rejoinders are easy: do you have a problem with people reading? Do you want immigrants to be victimized by loan sharks?

This could be good news for those of us who aren't undocumented immigrants. Not only will such ID make life easier for our neighbors, and connect them more to institutions. It could provide new energy and interest to our libraries. For one thing, library hours have been cut in LA and all around the state. Maybe, with more people coming to the libraries, they'll win more financial support -- and be open more often.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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