Should immigrants living here unlawfully be permitted to drive? Should they be eligible for city-issued photo IDs?

Eight states and the District of Columbia said yes to the driving question with controversial laws passed last year.

At least nine municipalities nationwide, including Trenton, have since 2007 adopted "muni-ID" programs on the premise that many of their residents - including undocumented immigrants, the homeless, and the indigent - lack the credentials needed to lead normal lives.

As 2014 begins, debate on these volatile issues is percolating in Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

"Imagine not having a valid form of ID, and the way you need it" to cash checks, rent apartments, and get utilities, said Desi Burnette of Fight for Drivers Licenses, a campaign to grant licenses to undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania.

The campaign supports legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for licenses using individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs) in place of Social Security numbers.

Supporters say such programs promote public safety by encouraging all residents to pay taxes, maintain car insurance, open bank accounts, and feel more secure when reporting crimes to police and they are asked for ID.

"It is a huge step forward," said Nicole Kligerman, a community organizer with New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, which opposes deportations. "It acknowledges the contributions [undocumented immigrants] are already making. It allows people living off the grid, so to speak, to participate more fully."

"All of us in Pennsylvania who are undocumented need driver's licenses to get to and from work," said Maria Juarez Garcia, 37, who came to Philadelphia from Mexico nine years ago.

Locally issued IDs and driver's licenses do not confer permission to be in the United States. They do, supporters say, give marginalized people the photo card they need to enter their child's school, or to pass through a security desk when visiting a friend in the hospital.

Opponents say such proposals weave undocumented immigrants into the fabric of the community when they should be weeded out. Licenses, even if marked "driving only, not for use as ID," might be abused, they say.

Some critics say also they are a stealth path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.

"What is the objective of the advocates?" said Steven Camarota, the Bustleton-born research director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington nonprofit that favors strict controls on immigration.

"The short-term goal is to make immigrants' lives easier. But the long-term goal is to create de facto amnesty. Look," he said, pitching his voice to mimic advocates' arguments, "'They've been here for years, their kids are in our schools, we give them in-state tuition - they even drive! - why don't we just go ahead and give them green cards?' "

He also questioned if municipal IDs could be reliably authenticated.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), Pennsylvania's most vocal critic of illegal immigration, said the proposals advance rights "for people who have no right to be on our soil in the first place."

Undocumented immigrants may present "sad-sack stories," he said. "But our government does not have a responsibility to change our policies to accommodate" them.

In Philadelphia, City Council has bills pending to create municipal IDs for residents regardless of immigration status.

"Lack of government-issued identification is a problem disproportionately faced by immigrant communities, seniors, people with disabilities [and] low incomes," said Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez, who introduced the legislation last fall.

Mayor Nutter is noncommittal. His spokesman, Mark McDonald, said he was reviewing the issues.

In Harrisburg, a bill sponsored by Rep. Angel Cruz (D., Phila.) would create what amounts to a driving privilege card for undocumented immigrants - valid behind the wheel, but not as a government-issued ID for other purposes.

Another bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Cohen (D., Phila.), would allow undocumented immigrants to get a license identical to a standard license. It would authorize the use of ITINs or a combination of consular documents to authenticate an applicant's name, birthday, and place of birth.

Gov. Corbett will not support either bill, spokesman Steve Chizmar said. "Licensing those who are in the Commonwealth illegally would be inappropriate," he said.

Natalia Jimenez, deputy consul for the Consulate of Mexico in Philadelphia, said "being able to drive with permission would be excellent" for immigrants whose use of bicycles and public transportation late at night has made them vulnerable to robberies.

A standardized city ID, she said, might also help alleviate confusion between the Mexican and American systems for recording dates. Dates in America are written month/day/year; in Mexico and many other parts of the world, day/month/year is conventional.

Kligerman said identity issues for undocumented immigrants are paradoxical. People don't want to be visible in ways that could result in deportation, she said. At the same time, "without any kind of ID, they don't have access to the basic building blocks of life in our city.

"Our hope is that municipal ID would allow a level of legibility, but not be used to track people's [immigration] status."