Change in ID-card law heightens migrants' fears
by Daniel Gonzalez - Aug. 2, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
It is known as the "matricula consular" in Spanish. For years, hundreds of thousands of Latino immigrants in Arizona have relied on the photo ID cards issued by Mexico and other foreign governments to open bank accounts, enroll children in school, register cars, rent apartments and prove their identity during traffic stops by police.
But the use of the card, most popular with illegal immigrants ineligible to obtain state driver's licenses or other forms of government-issued ID, was thrown into turmoil last month when a new state immigration-enforcement law took effect. The law bans state and local government entities from accepting consular ID cards issued by foreign governments.
The law has led to widespread fear and confusion among immigrants, many of whom are now under the mistaken impression that the cards themselves have been outlawed and simply carrying one could lead to a person's arrest and deportation. That has raised concerns that the law will make immigrants even less likely to report crimes to police.
"It just creates more distrust among immigrants from the police department," said Luis Avila, president of Somos America, a Phoenix-based coalition of immigrant-rights groups.
He said his organization has received many calls from immigrants asking, "Is it going to get me arrested?" or "What am I going to do when I register the kids for school?"
Luis Samudio, a Phoenix Police Department spokesman, said police are concerned the law will make immigrants even more reluctant to report crimes.
"That's what we are afraid of, certainly," he said. "We are finding that people are already afraid of making reports to the police because of the new immigration laws. I think this ID will be another obstacle."
The law took effect on July 20. It is the latest in a string of measures passed by Arizona lawmakers in recent years aimed at turning up the heat on illegal immigrants in hopes that they will leave the state.
"We don't want illegal aliens to be able to do business in Arizona. We want to make it as difficult as possible for them so they will go back to their countries and immigrate legally, if they so choose," said state Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, sponsor of the law banning the IDs at government agencies. He also has sponsored many other measures aimed at illegal immigrants.
From now on, schools, libraries, state and local health departments, the motor-vehicle department and any other state or local government entity is prohibited from accepting the consular cards.
Immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, preferred the consular cards because they are more convenient than passports because they cost less, fit inside a wallet and, most importantly, include the owner's local address in the U.S.
The law does not affect the use of foreign passports.
As a result, Mexican consulates in Arizona have extended hours to help Mexicans apply for passports, said Fernando de la Mora, who is in charge of legal and political affairs for the Consulate General of Mexico in Phoenix.
Reasons for the ban
Gould said lawmakers decided to ban the cards as forms of ID for government services for two reasons:
- They are primarily used by illegal immigrants to make a life in this country.
- They are not as tamper-proof as some other forms of identification issued in the U.S. or in other countries.
The Mexican government revamped the cards following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to make the cards more secure.
De la Mora said the consular cards are just as secure as passports and contain many security features including embedded biometric information, making them difficult to forge. But critics cite a 2003 FBI report that concluded that the cards were not a reliable form of ID because Mexico lacked a centralized database to coordinate issuance of the cards and because Mexican birth certificates, the main document needed to get a consular card, are easy to forge.
The Mexican government has issued hundreds of thousands of the cards to Mexicans living in Arizona. Several million cards have been issued to Mexicans living throughout the United States.
The cards are primarily intended to help the Mexican government track nationals during emergencies and to help Mexicans apply for services at the consulate.
Timothy Tait, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation, said the motor-vehicle division has stopped accepting consular ID cards. In the past, the cards were accepted to verify signatures to certify vehicle titles and to register vehicles.
Instead, immigrants without local ID are being told to bring valid foreign passports as primary identification, he said.
Jhoana Molina-Villar, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, said immigrants often used consular ID cards to get certified copies of birth certificates for their children.
In the days leading up to July 20, the number of people coming in with consular cards increased 50 percent as immigrants sought to get birth certificates before the law took effect, she said.
Private institutions are not affected by the law.
"These consular cards continue to be widely used as a means of identity by banks to help hundreds of thousands of immigrants move from the risky cash economy into secure and reliable financial services," said Danny Ischy, a spokesman for Wells Fargo bank.
Still, some businesses are unsure whether to accept the cards out of fear of running afoul of the law.
"It is confusing. It really is. You want to do the right thing," said Kevin Andrews, owner of Stratus, an event hall in Phoenix that serves alcohol and hosts concerts and parties.
Last Saturday, security guards refused to accept the consular cards during a Spanish concert to avoid possible sanctions from state liquor-control officials, he said. But many fans turned away were angered by the decision, and the hall's reputation among Latinos has suffered, Andrews said.
Even before the law went into effect, consular IDs were not acceptable to purchase or be served liquor under Arizona law, said Lee Hill, communications director for the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control. Clear up confusion
On Wednesday, Somos America hosted a forum at Granada East Elementary School in Phoenix to help clear up confusion about the law. More than 400 immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Guatemala, packed the school's gymnasium.
Carlos Mondrroy, 34, an undocumented immigrant from the state of Mexico, said he received a matricula consular card in 2008. Pulling the green, red and white card from his wallet, Mondrroy said he has used it to rent an apartment, open a bank account, apply for utilities and register his car with the state motor-vehicle division.
He said he is worried that if he is stopped now by the police, he could get arrested for carrying the card.
"What's going to happen if I show it to them?" he said.
In an interview, Samudio, the Phoenix police spokesman, emphasized that simply carrying the card is not a crime under the law.
"It's valid ID for the Mexican government," he said. "It's not against the law to have that ID."
In 2009, however, the department adopted a policy stating that consular cards do not meet Arizona traffic-law requirements because they do not contain physical information such as height, weight and hair color.
Drivers who present only the consular card in lieu of a driver's license or other ID can face criminal charges in cases where officers claim the ID is invalid proof of the driver's identity.
That policy will continue, Samudio said.
He said police would continue to accept consular IDs, however, on a discretionary basis as a secondary form of identification, akin to school IDs.
The Phoenix Police Department sent dozens of police officers in uniform to attend the meeting at Granada school. The large contingent was meant not as a show of force but to help overcome any mistrust generated by the law, Lt. Jacquelyn MacConnell told the audience in Spanish.
"We want to work with you," she said. "We want to work with all the people who live here. It doesn't matter where you are from. We need the information that you have so we can solve problems. . . . You can live without fear."
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