El Pasoans who do not have a form of identification are closer to being able to get community identifications through a pilot program the city will launch next year.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the “enhanced library card” pilot program that will serve El Pasoans who cannot obtain a Texas driver’s license or a state-issued ID.

The move to approve the program came following a City Council directive in April for city staff to conduct a feasibility study on issuing city identification cards to residents and to establish an implementation plan.

The enhanced library cards will be recognized by the El Paso Police Department and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department among others, said Deputy City Manager Dionne Mack, during a presentation to City Council Tuesday. The pilot program will cost about $105,000 and will provide 10,000 IDs in the first year.

Mack said the enhanced library card program established in 2020 being used in other Texas cities provides protections for private information that are built into the library records system.

“The enhanced library card model already has the security provisions of coverage under state law,” Mack said. “As a library director, I have to say protecting people’s privacy and their records and understanding those systems are things that I know really well and we’re really proud that this is something that libraries continue to serve our community in addition to the library services that we do traditionally.”

Dozens of people spoke in favor of the program during the meeting, including representatives from the Border Network for Human Rights, which has been advocating for a municipal ID program for about 10 years.

“This is a win for the thousands of El Paso residents who cannot access a government-issued identification and a historic milestone for the BNHR,” said BNHR Executive Director Fernando Garcia. 

A similar effort to develop a municipal ID program failed to get passed by the council in 2017.

“This initiative will help some of the most vulnerable populations of our community,” said city Rep. Alexsandra Annello.

The pilot program will begin at four El Paso library branches: the Westside Library, the Irving Schwartz Library in East El Paso, the Sergio Troncoso branch in the Lower Valley and the Jose Cisneros branch in East El Paso. There will also be a mobile processing station for pop-up events.

While the identification will help the recipients get access to services such as opening bank accounts and multiple city services, they will not replace state IDs or driver’s licenses, said El Paso Police Chief Peter Pacillas.

“This will help if they come to make police reports and things of that nature. What it will not do – is it does not allow them to drive a vehicle,” Pacillas said. “Legally, they still have to get a driver’s license from either the state of Texas or the state that they live in.”

The card will also allow those who have it to access city services with the health department, municipal courts, animal services, the tax office and police code enforcement, among others. Mack said the city will give the El Paso County Commissioners Court a presentation Monday about the program and could possibly enter an agreement with the county for the cards.

County services could include access to community services, criminal justice coordination, the county attorney’s office, public defenders and the sheriff.

El Paso County Commissioner David Stout, who has been in support of such an ID program, said he looks forward to working with the city.

“Not having an ID can be an impediment to participation in daily life, from banking to renting,” Stout said. “That’s what we are here for – to enhance community quality of life, to support business and individual initiative, to help people. I’m glad we can partner with the city on this, and I’m grateful to BNHR for its community advocacy and to the organizations and businesses that have committed to making this work.”

Mack said the city still has work to do ahead of the launch such as reaching out to financial institutions and other possible partners for future use of the cards. The city also needs to complete procurement of card production and security services, provide training, finalize the variety of documents that can be accepted to qualify for the card and conduct outreach and marketing.

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...