GOSHEN — City residents, whether they are United States citizens or not, will have the opportunity to obtain an identification card starting in December.
The staff at the Center for Healing and Hope and Elkhart County HOPE announced Monday morning the agencies will sponsor the card.
“Today, we are offering hope for our immigrant brothers and sisters and today we are offering a way for people of goodwill to help them,” said Richard Aguirre, founder of Elkhart County HOPE.
The agency provides support for immigrants and refugees in Elkhart County.
Aguirre and Bryan Mierau, executive director of Center for Healing and Hope's board of directors, said the card will be available to all Goshen residents, but will be especially helpful for immigrants who don’t have driver’s licenses and other commonly accepted forms of ID.
Aguirre said the concept for the card came about after President Donald Trump was elected and he pushed for a wall along the border with Mexico and an increase in arrests of undocumented immigrants already in the country. Aguirre also cited the restoration of programs that allow local law enforcement agencies to arrest and hold undocumented immigrants and Trump’s decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. He also cited the ending of the temporary protected status program that allows Haitians and Central American immigrants to stay in the U.S. due to “turmoil in their homelands.”
“Elkhart County HOPE began with a simple vision. As we hope and pray for the best we are planning for the worst and are committed to helping all our brothers and sisters because together we are Elkhart County and we treat everybody with dignity and respect,” Aguirre said in the lead-up to announcing the details of the card. “While over the past 10 months we have experienced the worst. The most radical and negative changes in immigration policies in many decades.”
He said as a result of Trump’s policies, more than 65,000 undocumented immigrants had been arrested in the first six months of this year, with some of those arrests occurring in Elkhart County. Aguirre said that number represents a 40 percent increase in arrests over the same period in 2016.
“The impact on immigrants nationwide and in our community has been devastating,” Aguirre said. “Immigrants are uncertain and afraid. They don’t feel safe, even in places they have lived for decades.”
The new Goshen identification card will help ease that uncertainty for local undocumented immigrants, according to Aguirre.
“Over the past year, I have talked to many undocumented immigrants who have established successful lives in Goshen and who simply want to continue living here and contributing to a diverse and welcoming city, which was named the community of the year by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce just last week.”
Beyond the issues of being a safe and welcoming community for immigrants, Aguirre said the community has an economic reason to accept immigrants.
“Goshen relies significantly on the labor of immigrants,” he said. “And on their educational and cultural contributions, especially from the Latino community.”
And, according to Aguirre, there is support in Goshen for the ID card.
“It has been very encouraging that so many people see the value of a Goshen resident identification card and endorse this program and its purposes.”
HOW IT STARTED
Aguirre said the ID card project began in February and the Center for Healing and Hope became involved in April then progressed with the formation of a committee in June. The project is similar to the ID cards issued by La Casa de Amistad in South Bend.
“We were working on this project identifying this as a community need of significance, that if we could do this well it would be a good stepping stone to other immigrant-type support services that would be a collaborative agreement in the community,” Mierau said.
The center provides health services for people who do not have insurance or a doctor, according to Mierau. Many of the clinic clients are from the immigrant community, according to staff.
MAYOR SUPPORTS IT
Mayor Jeremy Stutsman said Monday afternoon that he plans to issue an executive order directing city departments to accept the ID card for city services.
He added that city services, such as utilities, are available now.
“This makes it a little simpler for staff to have one more form to check to see if someone is a resident of Goshen when they want city sewer or water.”
Asked if he will seek the City Council’s backing for the card, the mayor said no.
“It is not my plan to take it to the City Council,” Stutsman said. “But I am also aware that the group has mentioned they would like to see the council to take some action. The executive order I am going to do will allow city services to accept these. If the council did something it is just more official and makes it so just one person couldn’t undo it in the future.”
In addition to backing the ID card with an executive order, Stutsman plans to obtain one himself.
“I expect this is something that any resident of Goshen who wants to say ‘Hey, we are from Goshen,’ is going to go out and get it. I am planning on getting one of these cards.”
The impact from having such a card for immigrants in Goshen will have a benefit when they interact with city employees, especially police officers, according to Stutsman.
“If you get pulled over and don’t have a license, that is what you are going to get a ticket for. These new IDs don’t qualify for licenses or voting rights and that kind of stuff,” the mayor said. “But the police, if they come up to a group of people who are out and about and not driving, at least the police will know if they are working with residents of Goshen or people outside our community.”
Stutsman said the benefits of the card for Goshen go beyond the simple recognition of who is who.
“I think the real value of this card comes in the sense of belonging and creating community pride.”