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Community groups call on Unified Government to establish municipal ID program

Safe and Welcome Wyandotte
Posted at 5:04 PM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-24 18:43:39-04

WYANDOTTE COUNTY, Kan. — Wyandotte County community watch groups are urging leaders to establish a municipal ID program.

"It's really about protecting our vulnerable community and giving them access to resources," said Valeria Espadas Ibarra, of El Centro, one group that has worked for years to create such a program.

Espadas Ibarra works as a community mobilizer with El Centro and said the organization and other groups continue to push for an ID program under the name Safe and Welcoming Wyandotte.

"It is not a driver's license," Espadas Ibarra said. "You cannot get, like, a passport with it. It will really just be a way for you to identify yourself here."

Several communities, according to Espadas Ibarra, would benefit from an ID program, such as those experiencing homelessness, the elderly, refugees and undocumented people.

Yazmin Bruno-Valdez is undocumented, as well as her mother. The college student said her mother is a survivor of domestic violence.

"It was a very hard time growing up in a home where I didn't feel safe, and I didn't feel my mom was safe either," Bruno-Valdez said.

Bruno-Valdez said her mother didn't seek help because of her immigration status.

"She did not want to come forward with her story," Bruno-Valdez said. "She did not want to turn over my dad. When he was arrested, she didn't even show up to court because she didn't speak English because she had no form of identification that would not out her immigration status."

Her mother also didn't want to risk going to authorities, according to Bruno-Valdez, and being deported when her immigration status was known.

Espadas Ibarra said in addition to establishing a community ID, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) noncompliance for local police would be another part of Safe and Welcoming. The goal is to not have local law enforcement contact ICE agents over a minor legal issue. The ICE noncompliance request, according to Espadas Ibarra, is the barrier in talks with Unified Government leaders.

A Unified Government spokesperson said in a statement that staff and officials have met with the Safe and Welcoming committee "in a variety of forums" in the past few years.

"Developing an ordinance for a consolidated city and county government, which satisfies the Safe and Welcoming coalition and still complies with state and federal rules and other legal requirements, has proven to be challenging," the statement read. "The Unified Government continues to meet with and work with the Safe and Welcoming group and advocates for a compromised agreement.”

In an online forum with community leaders, new Kansas City, Kansas, Police Chief Carl Oakman said he supports a community ID, but has concerns about the ICE noncompliance request.

Oakman said his department does not enforce immigration law and added getting involved in issues beyond the city's business could complicate matters.

"You want to be careful that you don't put your federal grants and other things in jeopardy," Oakman said. "And, really, it's something that's really not needed because we don't operate like that."

Community groups plan to hold a webinar about Safe and Welcoming on July and a rally at Unified Government City Hall at 6 p.m. July 15.