MILWAUKEE — Taxpayers would be on the hook for Milwaukee County local identification cards issued to illegal immigrants, the homeless and other residents who say they can’t, for whatever reason, get a state-issued ID card.
The jointly proposed initiative by the county and the city not only raises the specter of voter fraud but also increases concerns about waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer-funded social programs.
Three Milwaukee County supervisors have proposed an amendment that would grab $150,000 from the state exempt computer aid fund to pay for the “Community Identification Cards.”
The state aid payment for Milwaukee in July was nearly $4.2 million, according to the state Department of Revenue.
Payment is based on the 2014 value of tax-exempt business computers in each county.
The city would be expected to match the county’s contribution through a proposed Memorandum of Understanding between the two governments that “establishes the framework for the creation of the issuance of community ID cards.”
Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander on Wednesday urged the county’s Finance, Personnel and Audit committee to approve an amendment to the proposal that clearly states the cards would not be used for voting.
Alexander was basically called a bigot, a racist and compared to Donald Trump because of her voter integrity concerns.
“We need to be sure that we’re honest with people,” Alexander said in a statement. “The authors of the legislation funding the Community ID program with taxpayer dollars have said publicly that the ID cards will not be used for voting. If this is true, then why are they so adamantly opposed to marking that right there on the cards?” she asked.
An analysis conducted by Colleen Foley, deputy corporation counsel for Milwaukee County, notes that municipal ID programs exist in about a dozen municipalities and two counties, both in New Jersey. Foley’s August memo to County Supervisors Marina Dimitrijevic and Khalif Rainey asserts the New Jersey ID program aren’t as expensive as the initiative contemplated in Milwaukee County.
“Monmouth County, New Jersey issues cards only to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. Mercer County, New Jersey’s program is actually issued by a local, nonprofit,” the attorney wrote.
The programs provide identification to “marginalized populations who cannot otherwise obtain state issued IDs and include undocumented immigrants, domestic abuse victims, the homeless, seniors, transgender individuals, and the recently incarcerated,” the memo states.
Such IDs are “primarily intended to permit a person lacking photo identification to access municipal and private services,” like prescriptions, bank accounts, library cards, crime reporting, etc., but the cards are “multi-purpose,” Foley noted.
It’s the potential for open-ended access, particularly to illegal immigrants, that concerns fiscal watchers and voter integrity advocates.
“It’s obvious the long-term goal of this proposal is to subvert the voter ID law to give undocumented immigrants the opportunity to vote here in Wisconsin,” said state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, and a former Milwaukee County Board member. “And to make matters worse, it appears the Milwaukee County Board is trying to use state funding to achieve their goal. We must keep a close eye on this as it proceeds so we can do whatever it takes to protect the integrity of the voting process in Wisconsin.”
Foley in her memo wrote that while the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 prohibits the awarding of state or local benefits to unlawfully present immigrants, she quickly added this disclaimer:
“The act does not bar states from delegating to administrative agencies or local government’s authority to determine whether unauthorized aliens may be granted certain benefits.”
Foley goes on to write that it “can be argued that municipal IDs are not a public benefit since they do not involve payments of assistance but rather access to services.”
They do involve an outlay of hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money.
Among the municipalities to implement the ID program is one of the nation’s most left-leaning, New York City. Foley said the Big Apple has invested about $15 million without legal challenges thus far.
New Haven, Connecticut, the first U.S. city to roll out a municipal ID program, did face a legal challenge. The state’s attorney general issued an opinion prohibiting the card for voter registration purposes.
The same would apply in Wisconsin, Foley said.
Dimitrijevic and Rainey did not return requests for comment.
Supervisor Peggy Romo West, who co-sponsored the amendment with Dimitrijevic and Rainey, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel late last month that “too many people are denied access to a full quality of life because they do not have proper identification.”
The County Board plans to meet Monday to vote on the amendments to County Executive Chris Abele’s 2016 budget.
The Journal Sentinel reported that “Abele supports the local ID cards, according to Raisa Koltun, the executive’s chief of staff. He has discussed the need for the cards with Voces de la Frontera and other advocacy groups, Koltun said.”
The county budget committee Wednesday approved the funding amendment for the ID program, which will cover the cost of administering and promoting the distribution of the cards.
Alexander said she will fight for her amendment, although she doubts it will receive much support from her colleagues.
“The county has a right and responsibility to ensure that if new ID Cards it develops or funds for the benefit of the general public are not able to be used for something as essential to our way of life as voting, they should be clearly marked,” she said.