By Susan Estes, guest to The Kansas City Star
Healthy societies have a civic symbiosis. They say, “Because we are, I am, and because I am, we are.” They make room for everyone to contribute.
We have an opportunity to move closer to that ideal in Wyandotte County, where one in five residents would benefit individually from a proposal to establish a municipal identification card. But as the very name of the early Quindaro settlement there suggests, the entire community would also win.
According to the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library’s website, Quindaro began as a town named for Nancy Brown Guthrie, whose American Indian name Quindaro is a Wyandot Indian word literally meaning “a bundle of sticks.” Figuratively, however, it means “in union, there is strength.”
The county has served as a bridge to something better since its founding. Abolitionists helped enslaved Africans escape via the Underground Railroad under the banner “emancipation without proclamation.” One of the nation’s first all-black colleges, Western University, sprang up there.
Life glowed for decades in Wyandotte County, then slowly faded. The population dwindled.
But as one era ebbed, another dawned. Today, there is a new group of people seeking a better life. But to contribute in today’s Wyandotte County — to become a part of that bundle of sticks — these people need identification.
In our society, having identification documents helps to ensure the dignity and well-being of the residents of any community. It’s the gateway to obtaining health care, opening a checking account or purchasing a car.
That’s why Wyandotte County needs municipal ID.
It is the only county in the Kansas City region with a higher share of immigrants than the United States as a whole. A 2017 Pew Research Center study said the number of undocumented people peaked in 2007, when this group represented 4 percent of the U.S. population. Roughly 2.6 percent of Kansans — 75,000 people — may be undocumented, but that figure is nearly 7 percent among Wyandotte County residents. That’s about 11,000 people.
The immigrant community would not be alone in benefiting from this resolution. Municipal ID cards serve the elderly, juveniles, the homeless and people re-entering society after incarceration. They offer access to many basic functions of daily life.
But these are not the only types of people who would gain from creating this form of identification. The entire community would see real advantages. What if a now-missing 20 percent of our population could more fully participate in the economy?
Progressive, proactive police departments around the nation — from small-town Iowa to Chicago to New York City — support municipal ID efforts similar to this one. With more people able to cooperate with law enforcement without the fear that lacking official ID brings, police can do a better job of keeping the community safe.
In this era of dividing wedge issues and politics, we need more measures such as this one to keep our fraying society stitched together.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas is hosting a community kickoff event for our municipal ID campaign on Aug. 15 at 5:30 p.m. at El Centro headquarters, 650 Minnesota Ave. in Kansas City, Kan. We will have speakers, food and opportunities to get involved. It will be fun, but we hope you’ll join us and support this cause for more important reasons.
Democracy demands participation, and the more engaged our citizenry, the healthier our civic culture will be. But with wide swaths of our friends and neighbors unable to participate, the health of that culture is at stake.
A municipal identification card offers a commonsense path to a common good. Societal progress on any significant scale requires a civic symbiosis, a sense that everyone — from the most influential to the most vulnerable — matters.
Every stick added to our bundle makes us that much stronger.
Susan Estes is board president of the ACLU of Kansas. She lives in Wyandotte County.