Illustration by Maren Slobody

There are an estimated 4.3 million immigrants living without documentation in Los Angeles, according to its Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The rights of these residents should not only be defended, but expected.

It comes as a relief then that Villaraigosa is advocating for photo identification cards that would be available to all residents of L.A. County — regardless of immigration status. This form of identification could serve as a functional ATM card and would allow residents to access city services.

We are glad to see the city of Los Angeles taking the issue of immigrant rights seriously.

Opponents say this new form of photo identification is merely an accommodation for immigrants, who shouldn’t be in the U.S. in the first place. Regardless of your view on whether people “should” come to the U.S. or not, L.A. must support its residents, wherever they come from.

This alternative form of identification would include a photo, among other identifying attributes. According to the Huffington Post, the card would include the person’s name, street address, date of birth, hair color, eye color, height and weight, as well as the optional debit service.

For many people without documentation who are forced to carry around large quantities of cash in the absence of a bank account, this will be a much safer option. For those who cannot obtain a driver’s license because of their immigration status, this is unequivocally a step in the right direction.

However, there are large concerns remaining that need to be answered, namely the uncertainty around using this ID card because of the risk of deportation.

This ID card does not protect people from deportation, it will not be able to function as a driver’s license and it will not allow people to ride commercial planes. Assurances must be made that in no way will this form of identification, which includes many identifying characteristics, be used in a way to deport people without documentation.

On the whole, it is heartening to see that steps are being taken in Los Angeles in favor of rights for people without documentation. At the beginning of this month, L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck made strides in easing the L.A. Police Department’s deportation policy, announcing that hundreds of immigrants without documentation arrested in nonviolent misdemeanors, like illegal vending or driving without a license, would not be turned over to federal authorities for deportation.

However, we simply do not know whether police will be able to use this card to identify people without documentation. Nor do we know if there has been an increase in the numbers of deportations in cities that have already provided such ID card services, like Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco and San Diego. Mayor Villaraigosa and other members of the Los Angeles City Council must make assurances, and codify them into law, that this form of ID will not be used to aid and abet deportation.