New ID law in Ariz. stirs worries for immigrants
Consulate-issued cards will not be recognized
by Alia Beard Rau - May. 31, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Amid the controversial illegal-immigration measures that failed to win enough legislative support this year, one smaller bill did pass.
Starting July 20, state and local government entities no longer can recognize photo-ID cards issued by foreign consulates. The cards often are the sole form of photo identification for individuals living in another country who do not have a passport or a local driver's license.
Some state lawmakers have been trying to pass the law for years as part of a larger push to keep illegal immigrants out of Arizona. They say the ID cards are too easy to fraudulently attain and give the inaccurate impression that all cardholders are in the country legally.
Immigrant-advocacy groups worry the new law will leave some immigrants without a form of identification and further dissuade them from reporting crimes to law enforcement.
The law, Senate Bill 1465, further distinguishes Arizona in its stance on illegal immigration.
More than 30 states accept the cards as a legitimate form of photo identification for citizens of other countries.
In past years, several Arizona city councils, including Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, Chandler and Mesa, have voted to officially accept the cards.
Sometimes called "matricula consular" cards, the IDs are issued by some foreign governments to their citizens living, both legally and illegally, in another country. The cards show in which country individuals hold citizenship as well as their U.S. residential address. Cardholders use them to open bank accounts, set up utility services, acquire library cards and, to varying degrees, prove their identity to law enforcement.
In Arizona and the United States, the Mexican Consulate is the dominant distributor of the cards. According to a 2005 congressional report, more than 4 million Mexican consular ID cards have been issued in the United States.
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, who sponsored SB 1465, said the law stemmed from concern that the Mexican government does not adequately verify the identity of individuals before issuing them a card.
"This is not a secure method of ID," Gould said.
He said if the Mexican government wants to provide a secure form of identification for its citizens living in the U.S., it can do so with a passport.
The Mexican Consulate's office in Arizona disputed that the cards are not secure and could be fraudulently acquired. Spokeswoman Socorro Córdova said in an e-mail that the cards are issued "solely upon a rigorous confirmation of nationality, local residence and identity."
Arizona lawmakers have been trying to get the law passed for nearly a decade. In 2005, it passed the Legislature but was vetoed by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano. Among the reasons listed in her veto letter was concern that it could push foreign nationals to illegally acquire other forms of identification, including forged Social Security cards.
The new law will not affect immigrants' ability to use the cards at private businesses. For example, many banks accept the card as adequate identification to set up an account. The law would forbid, for example, a city from accepting a consular ID card as the only required identification to get a library card or a police officer accepting the card as an official means of identification during an investigation.
Phoenix intergovernmental liaison John Wayne Gonzales said that the cards sometimes are accepted as one of several documents someone may provide to verify identity but that they are not accepted as a primary source of identification.
"Police may look at them if they are available but will not use them as a source of official identification," Gonzales said.
Phoenix Sgt. Tommy Thompson said the new law will have little impact on law enforcement or how police deal with immigrants.
Immigrants are concerned.
"People need a way to identify themselves in order to report crime when they are a victim or witness, and they were accustomed to using (consular) ID," said Connie Andersen, a member of the Valley Interfaith Project, an organization of churches, schools and non-profit agencies. "This tells them they have to put that away. Some people don't have alternative forms of ID. Now, they're not sure what to do."
She said the new law is giving immigrants more reason to avoid law enforcement, even to report a crime.
Some immigrants, she said, have misunderstood the law and now think it is a crime to carry the cards.
Indiana this year passed a law that does make it illegal to use cards issued by foreign consulates. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit challenging that law.
No legal challenges have yet been filed against Arizona's law.