The Charlottesville Area Community ID Project is closing up shop at the end of this month — and that’s good news, its volunteers say.
Over three years, the group distributed 848 local identification cards to people who don’t qualify for state-issued cards. Their last session for people to sign up the IDs is this Saturday.
The group is disbanding because of changes in Virginia law that make it easier for people who are not US citizens, resident aliens (also known as green card holders), or who do not have documents to live and work in the US to obtain drivers’ privilege cards and state-issued identification cards. This includes undocumented immigrants or those who are waiting in backlogs or working through the federal system to get work permits or other paperwork related to their immigration status. The state law, passed with narrow margins in the House and Senate in 2020 and 2021, changes the requirements for states-issued IDs and took effect at the beginning of this year.
Frank Sullivan, a volunteer with the Charlottesville Area Community ID Program said that the number of local people using the local ID program offered has dropped off since they first it in 2019.
“The community has learned that now there is a way to get something that you couldn’t get three years ago,” Sullivan said. “But now, with a statewide valid card, that’s so much more powerful than ours was. We said, ‘You know, it’s time for us to go out of business. Our need has been fulfilled.””
The new state IDs can be used more widely than locally issued IDs, but driver privilege cards are not the same as a drivers’ license and the state IDs that US citizens or resident aliens carry. The state cards can help with opening a bank account, renting an apartment, or enrolling children in school, but they do not grant access to Federal buildings or allow people to board domestic flights.
To obtain the new cards, people must show that they’ve paid state taxes on income or have been claimed as a dependent on an individual tax return. People can also show proof of identification from their passport and ID from their country of origin along with two proofs of Virginia residency, such as a utilities bill or rent statement.
The credentials are valid for up to two years. Like other ID cards, they expire on a person’s birthday. Regular ID cards and licenses last for eight years.
Edgar Lara, the executive director of the nonprofit organization Sin Barreras, said that the local program and recent changes to state law are not perfect solutions, but they have been helpful.
“For me, the most important part and discussion is the driver privilege card and the ID card,” said Lara. “Some people may think, ‘Great these now exist, this problem is solved.’ But it’s not solved.”
Previously, if a person was pulled over for say, a broken tail light or for speeding, and they didn’t have a driver’s license or driver privilege card, their immigration status could put them at risk of deportation. Both the Albemarle County and Charlottesville Police Departments have been supportive of the local ID program. The APCD said that they will accept both the local ID cards and the new state cards and they do not refer people to immigration agencies. The Albemarle County Sheriff referred Charlottesville Tomorrow’s inquiries back to the police departments.
Charlottesville’s local ID program operates with funding through donations and the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. They coordinated with both the Charlottesville Police Department and Albemarle County Police Department to issue ID cards at community events by checking proof of identity and address.
Sin Barreras, provides legal and immigration services and workshops, as well as advocacy to state and local governments, collaborated with the volunteers of the Charlottesville Area Community ID Program to tell area Latinos about the local ID service; Latino immigrants ended up signing up for cards the most.
“It’s still challenging for many reasons, including oftentimes the human aspect of creating extra barriers,” Lara said. “People can get shut down at places like the DMV.”
There are still language barriers to accessing government programs that can make it difficult for people who don’t speak English to understand, obtain or present the documents needed to get IDs, Lara said.
Sullivan said that some people might also be afraid to go to the DMV in the first place. To acquire identification or a driver’s privilege card still means interacting with government officials and showing proofs of identity.
“Some people in our community have been living with an elephant on their shoulders,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan hopes the new state driver privilege cards and identification cards will help alleviate the fear of detention or deportation statewide.
Sin Barreras and organizations like the Legal Aid Justice Center advocated and lobbied the state legislature on behalf of non-US citizens for driver privilege cards and ID cards. Lara said that his organization will continue to advocate for people to be able to get full state identification cards and full drivers’ licenses.
“I wouldn’t call it ‘mission accomplished’,” he said. “There’s a lot of ongoing work.”
In the meantime, Sullivan said that people can get this last round of local IDs to have on hand if they are not able or ready to get a state-issued ID.
Make an appointment to get a local ID with the Charlottesville Area Community ID Project by calling (434) 260-0586. If you would like a state-issued driver privilege card, here is more information from the DMV and a place to make an appointment. The fee is $53. The website also has an interactive tool to show you which documents you’ll need for an ID or driver privilege card.