OAKLAND -- A first-of-its-kind municipal identification and debit card will become available to residents next month, making Oakland the first city to help undocumented immigrants not only prove their identity, but avoid expensive check-cashing outfits.

The card, which is tentatively slated to make its debut Feb. 1, will be available to all residents. It can also function as a library card, and Mayor Jean Quan said she hoped students would be able to use them to buy school lunches and that merchants would offer special deals to cardholders.

Quan and Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente first proposed city identification cards in 2009 to help assure undocumented residents that they wouldn't risk deportation by reporting crimes or coming forward as witnesses to crimes.

Quan also wanted the cards to have the banking feature -- an option not available on other cities' identification cards. The banking feature took several years for the city to put in place. The City Council approved a banking provider in October.

"I think Oakland is one of those cities that actually put our money where our mouth is," De La Fuente said during a Wednesday news briefing on the card program.

Although Oakland's card is still in the works, Assistant City Manager. Arturo Sanchez said cities from as far away as Connecticut have contacted him to learn more about the debit card component. Richmond and Los Angeles are moving ahead with similar cards, he said.


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The card, whose debit feature is optional, will cost $15. The city anticipates issuing about 6,000 cards in the first year.

Oakland already has declared itself a Sanctuary City, directing police officers not to question anyone's immigration status. Asked if the new ID cards compromised federal immigration law, Quan said, "Sometimes federal law is unjust. These are people who are residents of our city."

The card program is not supposed to cost the city any money. Debit cardholders will have to pay standard fees to put money on the card and use it at ATMs. If the fees rise above a certain threshold, Oakland will be able to seek a different banking partner, Sanchez said.

To receive a card, applicants will have to show photo identification, which could include an expired visa or student identification card, as well as proof of Oakland residency.

The program's office will be at City Hall, though city officials hope to open satellites in Chinatown and the heavily Latino Fruitvale District.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.