Story by Aurora Martínez
Video by Joseline Donoso and Pamela Comme
Maria Marleny Ortez, 35, has lived and worked in Gainesville for 13 years. For many years, her only identification was an expired passport, but in 2019 she obtained a community ID.
“You can show it everywhere,” Ortez said, “and they accept it.”
Ortez, originally from Honduras, has four children — 17, 16, 9 and a 3-month-old — and works as a housekeeper at a local hotel. She came to the United States when she was 22. She wanted to be able to afford food and give her children a better life, she said. At the time, she didn’t have a legal immigration status.
People like Ortez, who come to the U.S. undocumented, are doomed to live under the shadows. Not being able to identify themselves blocks their access to services such as health care, housing, libraries, and even being able to pick up their children at school, said Liz Ibarrola, the director of immigration concerns for the Human Rights Coalition of Alachua County.
Ibarrola said that since October 2018, undocumented immigrants and other marginalized communities, such as those who are homeless and those who have just been released from jail, have been given an alternative to expand their access to services in Gainesville and throughout the county. They are called community IDs and are issued by the Human Rights Coalition.
“For someone experiencing homelessness,” Ibarrola said, “it could be the difference between being barred from housing and being placed in housing.”
The IDs are recognized by the city of Gainesville, Alachua County Public Schools, the Sheriff’s Office, the Alachua County Commission and UF Health Shands Hospital, among others.
More recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ibarrola said the IDs have become more beneficial because they allow people to access testing and vaccines that are often restricted to a particular county or city.
“Being able to prove that you are a resident of Alachua County means that you can get these,” Ibarrola said.
Nearly a thousand IDs have been issued by the Human Rights Coalition since 2018, including 73 since the start of this year.
“Mexican nationals are our biggest group, followed by Hondurans,” Ibarrola said. “But we have recently seen more and more Venezuelans getting the ID.”
Although the number of people interested in getting an ID has not noticeably increased, the way in which people register for them has changed, Ibarrola added. Instead of having open ID drives, at which anyone can come to their building, they are now mostly working with appointments or hosting registration events outdoors.
To get an ID, people can go directly to the Human Rights Coalition website, choose a time and make an appointment to come to the coalition’s office at their convenience. But if doing the process online represents a challenge, people can also schedule an appointment by calling their hotline, Ibarrola said.
The coalition requires people to bring three forms of identification to issue their ID: some form of photo ID, such as an expired state ID or passport; proof of their address, such as a bill or bank statement; and proof of age, such as a birth certificate, insurance policy or school transcript.
“We promise the ID within 10 to 14 business days,” Ibarrola said. “But it’s usually less time.”
The ID costs $10. However, they make exceptions if people have any difficulty affording it, such as experiencing housing instability or food insecurity, Ibarrola added. IDs are — or to GRACE Marketplace if the person is homeless — and are valid for two years, after which time they should be renewed.
“We see it as a service, not a charity,” Ibarrola said, “and the fee keeps the program running.”
Patricia Moreno, 32, a volunteer with the Human Rights Coalition, said people are sometimes reluctant to providing copies of their documents for fear of being persecuted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But they explain that because the IDs are not issued by a state’s entity, they are not subject to Florida’s public records law.
Moreno is from Colombia and is a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida. She is on a legal student status. But she said volunteering with Human Rights Coalition has put her life into perspective as she meets people from her same nationality whose experience in the country and getting access to services has not been the same.
“It makes me be a little bit more conscious of how hard it can be for an immigrant to come to this country without papers,” Moreno said.
Although the coalition mostly serves Hispanics, they have also encountered a couple of indigenous people from Guatemala who don’t speak Spanish nor English as their first language.
“When people come to the ID drives,” Moreno said, “we help them fill out the forms.”
Members of the LGBTQ community have also started getting HRC IDs because it allows them to have an identification that reflects their preferred names, Moreno added.
It’s not necessary to be part of one of the aforementioned groups to get the ID, however. People who don’t need it are encouraged to get one as well, to help normalize its use and reduce biases among the community. The more people who get one and use it, the easier it will be for more entities to recognize it as a valid form of identification, Ibarrola added.
“By increasing use and visibility of the ID,” she said, “we improve access.”