City wants a municipal ID card to make its residents feel safer

BRIDGETON — The city of Bridgeton has taken its first steps to creating its own ID card for its residents.

The Bridgeton City Council passed the first reading of an ordinance that would allow residents of the city to get an identification card if they are not able to get a state or federal card. 

Under the ordinance, residents as young as 14-years-old would be able to get a card. The card, which would valid for two years, would include information such as the cardholder’s name, picture and address. Residents would also have to prove that they live in Bridgeton.

It would cost between $2,500 and $3,000 to get the program started. It is estimated that the fees that would be charged for the identification card would make up for the costs.

“There was a presentation given at St. Teresa of Avila Church in front of 500 about the safety of certain families and why we need to come together,” said City Council President Gladys Lugardo-Hemple. “They were worried that there are a lot of issues in the city especially for our new residents. The place was full of people who were interested. They need an ID for certain places like hospitals and schools.

Local identification cards are of the many topics that come up nationwide as part of the immigration debate. 

Jersey City and municipalities in the state are some of the places where local identification cards have been approved in the state.

“We’ve been studying this for quite some time, studying resolutions and ordinances from participating cities in New Jersey,” said Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly.  “There are many people who are considered walking ATMs on our streets in terms of they can’t open a bank account so they carry all of that money. Having an ID will allow them to open a bank account. I think it’s more important now during this political era that we issue IDs for local areas.”

The ID would help in allowing people to not only open bank accounts, but it could benefit homeless residents who may have trouble obtaining services but do not have identification. The ID is also expected to help with public safety. It has the backing of Bridgeton Police Chief Michael Gaimari.

“From a safety standpoint now, we have certain crimes where there is a reluctance by people and witnesses to give a proper name and address,” said Gaimari. “It makes it very difficult for us to track down the witnesses and sometimes even victims once we do have suspects where we have intelligence to arrest, especially the serious crimes like robbery.”

Councilman William Spence said he is not against the plan to have the IDs. However, he does have some questions about the proposal.

“Given the present Washington D.C situation, people may not want to come out and get an ID,” said Spence.

“I know some families that have already legally have designated their children that were born here as parents to take care of younger siblings in the event the parents are shipped back,” said Spence. “It’s heart-wrenching when you hear about it.”

According to information in the 2017 Cumberland County Databook, almost half of Bridgeton’s population identifies themselves as Hispanic (48.9 percent). 5,589 of the residents were born in Latin America.

Stories such as the one Spence talked about are some of the things that the undocumented residents in the county and across the nation are currently experiencing. 

President Donald Trump has put an increased focus on illegal immigration in the country. Fearing deportation, many undocumented workers try to remain as inconspicuous as possible, trying to remain in the country. 

Meghan Hurley is the Communications Director for CATA, an organization based based in South Jersey but has other locations in Pennsylvania and Maryland. CATA’s membership is made up of Latino migrants and their families, mostly who work on farm labor camps or in the food industry and packing houses.    

“There have been great lengths made to make sure that there is as little risk of that as possible. Within the ordinance, there is a strict confidentiality clause and there will be a policy put in place in terms of what information is actually recorded and kept in the database and what is not.”

This is not the first initiative the city has taken in support of undocumented workers. In 2015, the city passed a resolution asking the state to pass a law to allow undocumented people to obtain a driver’s license. 

There was some discussion about if the ordinance should be pulled due to clarify some of the language in the ordinance. However, the measure passed unanimously. There may be some tweaks to the ordinance, however, details of which items are not known. Another goal of the program is to make Bridgeton more inclusive.

“We are not a sanctuary city,” said Kelly. “I have made that clear on a number of occasions. We are what I consider to be a welcoming city and this would be a way to welcome our residents and make sure that they feel safe in our community.”

A public hearing on the identification card ordinance will be held July 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Bridgeton Municipal Building.

Chris Franklin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @cfranklinnews. Find on Facebook.