Municipal ID Program Being ‘Crushed’ by Demand From Migrants, City Clerk Says

A mock-up of the city's municipal identification card. (City of Chicago)A mock-up of the city's municipal identification card. (City of Chicago)

Demand for a Chicago CityKey — the city’s municipal identification card designed to help undocumented immigrants, the homeless and those with a criminal record access services — skyrocketed during the past year, City Clerk Anna Valencia said.

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Valencia told members of the City Council’s Budget and Government Operations Committee — which is examining the clerk’s $15 million 2024 budget — that her office is struggling to provide Chicago’s newest arrivals with a city identification card.

For many of the more than 18,500 migrants who arrived in Chicago after crossing the southern border, getting a city ID is the first step toward putting down roots in Chicago.

But that demand has made administering the program “unmanageable,” with massive lines greeting Valencia’s staff who issue the identification cards at events held across the city.

“Demand was already high, but the new arrivals demand has crushed the program,” said Valencia, who asked City Council members to expand her office’s staff to help meet that demand.

City officials have issued 150% more municipal ID cards so far in 2023 than in all of 2021 and 17% more than in all of 2022, according to data obtained from the city clerk’s office by Datamade Co.’s Forest Gregg through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Although the clerk’s office hosted five events where Chicagoans could apply for a CityKey in September, the only event scheduled in October was canceled and there are no additional events scheduled through the end of the year, according to the clerk’s website.

The city clerk’s 2024 budget for the municipal identification card program is set to grow 40% to $907,000, as compared with the proposed 2023 budget, according to the spending plan proposed by Mayor Brandon Johnson.

Valencia said she would like to create an online portal to make it possible for people to apply for the ID card without having to wait in long lines — but was told by budget officials that the city did not have enough resources to fund that effort.

“My team is drowning,” Valencia said. “My staff is burned out.”

The Chicago City Council greenlighted the municipal identification card program in 2017, at a time when threats from former President Donald Trump to deport undocumented immigrants prompted concern from city leaders that they would not be able to access city services.

Chicagoans can use the cards to ride the CTA, check out books from the Chicago Public Library and get discounts from local businesses. Anyone who lives in Chicago is eligible for the card, as long as they can provide official documents that include their photo, date of birth and proof they live in Chicago.

Valencia faced pointed questions about what documents migrants need to provide to get a city ID card from Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th Ward). All of the migrants are in the country legally after requesting asylum.

Valencia said her office will issue a city ID card to migrants who present the paperwork they have received from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which allows them to remain in the country while their cases work their way through the courts.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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