If you have easeful access to identification, consider: What daily activities does your ID allow you to do without thought? How would your day today change if you didn’t have identification?
According to the ACLU, 11% of U.S. citizens – or more than 21 million Americans – do not have government-issued photo identification (ACLU). Much of the conversation around the need for IDs revolves around voting, driven by the rise of legislation that states across the country are implementing that include stricter identification requirements (NPR). Marginalized groups, including those disabled, the elderly population, and people of color, are less likely to have identification than the general population, which means their voices are minimized in elections. But beyond that, the identification gap causes many issues for people across the country, particularly during COVID-19.
First, lack of identification has made it more difficult for people to get vaccinated. The federal government does not mandate the need for identification, emphasizing that it’s imperative that everyone, regardless of immigrant status, has access to the vaccine. But each state has a different registration process, and vaccination sites often make up their own rules (Washington Post). I had to bring my ID and proof of residency to receive mine. Some states, like Florida, and testing sites have implemented identification requirements to combat “vaccine tourism,” where non-locals will travel to other communities to get access (BuzzFeed). But these measures impact people that actually live in these communities who just happen not to have identification.
This issue also contributed to the racial disparities of those that received PPP funding, government assistance to support small businesses through the shutdowns over the past year. Until recently, the application process required a social security number, making those that do not have one ineligible, even those who pay taxes with an individual taxpayer identification number (Los Angeles Times).
Lack of identification is a persistent issue for those that are unhoused. Many cities have enacted legislation that makes it illegal to live in public (Anti-Racism Daily). Not having identification can increase the likelihood for individuals to be arrested or fined because of this, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP). Furthermore, access to essentials like rapid housing, temporary housing, employment, and medical care can become far more complex (Vice). Violent sweeps, performed by law enforcement as an attempt to clear unhoused people from sidewalks and parks, often result in the loss of physical identification items, like licenses and birth certificates. Replacing an identification is a difficult process, especially without the original and access to a permanent address. Efforts to increasing access to identification for unhoused communities must include protecting their valuables from the state government.
These issues don’t just create barriers to life-saving essential services. They contribute to the ostracization that many marginalized people experience when navigating our country’s social services. Having an identification is one of the most foundational aspects of belonging in a society. And in contrast, when one has to constantly prove their legitimacy without one, it can foster feelings of isolation and distrust. Changing the narrative of who “deserves” to have identification shifts how we welcome one another into our communities.
There’s some remarkable work happening to combat the identification gap across disciplines. Organizations like Mini City, based in Atlanta, and Samaritarian, based in Seattle, use smart tech to make it easy for those without identification to authenticate and apply for social services (Vice). Nonprofit organizations, like Reconciliation Services in Kansas City, host regular drives to get more people state IDs and start the necessary paperwork for other forms of identification (Kansas City Beacon). Some are also helping to cover or waive the fees for obtaining photo identification (StreetRoots). Other cities are starting, or expanding, their own local IDs initiatives for county residents, like this initiative in Broward County, FL (Miami Herald).
Hopefully, something like this is starting near you, too. It’s our collective responsibility to ensure that no members of our community are left behind.