San Francisco will begin issuing municipal identification cards to illegal immigrants next year, becoming the second city in the country to create such a program in the wake of stalled immigration reform efforts in Washington.

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday gave the final OK needed to create the ID card program, effectively legitimizing the city's estimated 40,000 illegal immigrants.

The cards will be available to anyone living in the city next August and used as proof of identity when it comes to most facets of city business, from library service to police stops. Although immigrants are the prime target for the ID program, the cards will be available to anyone who wants them.

The program becomes the most significant piece in San Francisco's efforts to offer a safe haven for illegal immigrants, which includes prohibiting city employees and police from asking anyone about their immigration status. Many other cities in the Bay Area, including San Jose, offer some of those safe-haven protections to immigrants.

Developing the program took on new urgency for San Francisco leaders this summer after Congress' inability to enact immigration reform and as the Bush administration made moves to more stringently enforce current immigration laws.

"This will recognize contributions of people who are part of the community," said Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who led the push for the cards.


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The full extent of how the cards can be used remains to be hashed out, but San Francisco leaders are trying to develop a plan that would incorporate both an identification card and public transportation pass.

The cards — complete with cardholders' addresses and photos — would cost $15 for adults and $5 for youths. Discounts will be offered to those considered low-income.

Ammiano estimates the program will cost San Francisco about $500,000, most of that expected during the program's first year. But some officials predict it could cost as much as $3 million.

"If people have to live in the shadows, it affects you, me and everyone," Ammiano said, adding leaders are also working with banks so the IDs could be used to open checking and savings accounts.

He said the cards also will offer some solace to illegal immigrants who have shied away from reporting crimes committed against them for fear of being found out.

The move didn't surprise Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization calling for tighter border enforcement.

"It's San Francisco being San Francisco," Mehlman said, noting that the move is far different from a now-scrapped plan in New York.

Mehlman likened San Francisco's cards to "high school identification cards" that can't be used outside of the city and "it seems like an act of defiance" because supervisors "don't support stepped-up enforcement."

Ammiano got the idea for the cards from New Haven, Conn., where leaders began to talk about a city ID card for residents — specifically illegal immigrants — around summer 2005.

At the time, the city of roughly 127,000 was experiencing some growing pains as its illegal immigrant population grew to about 15,000.

Robbers called illegal immigrants, who routinely carry cash because they don't have bank accounts, "walking ATMs," said Kica Matos, New Haven's community services director.

New Haven began issuing cards July 24 with a $236,000 grant, expecting to hand out

5,000 cards during the first 12 months.

But in less than four months, leaders have nearly surpassed their estimates, issuing 4,670 cards as of Monday, Matos said.

Ammiano said his plan doesn't only acknowledge illegal immigrants, but gives them a voice to speak up.

When it comes to basic human rights, he said, "it's not a good idea to keep your head in the sand."

Contact Javier Erik Olvera at jolvera@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5704.