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Growing Use of Mexican IDs Stirs Up Critics

Law: Advocates of strict immigration policies say police exceed their authority by accepting consular cards as identification.

November 26, 2001|KIMI YOSHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County's decision earlier this month to begin accepting Mexican consular cards as identification is attracting mounting opposition from groups that seek to limit immigration.

Groups such as the American Patrol and California Coalition for Immigration Reform in Huntington Beach are urging their supporters to "strongly oppose this treachery."

The groups are planning at least two protests--one at the Anaheim City Council's Dec. 4 meeting and another in front of Anaheim City Hall on Dec. 8, billed as a "defense of the homeland" rally. The groups take a hard line against illegal immigration.

"Our concerns are that the police in Orange County seem to be taking it upon themselves to assume the responsibility for foreign affairs," said Glenn Spencer, president of the Sherman Oaks-based American Patrol.

"The only persons it would seem to us who need to get the special consular documents are persons who are in the country illegally."

The protests reopen an issue that police and immigrant-rights groups had nearly resolved after months of protests and arguments. Immigrants in Orange County, particularly in Anaheim, have criticized police for a long-standing policy that allows an INS agent to be stationed at the city jail.

The result, they said, is that illegal immigrants were being deported as a result of minor traffic accidents. Without a driver's license or identification, suspects could be detained by police. And, once in jail, immigration authorities are allowed to question them and check their residency status, even in the case of an infraction such as jaywalking.

The illegal immigrants complained that they could not obtain a driver's license or a state ID card without a Social Security card. With proper identification, most people can be cited and released.

After the consulate and immigrant-rights groups began logging increasing numbers of complaints and stories of families separated by deportations, the Mexican consulate met with police chiefs in Orange County.

Officials suggested that police accept the "matricula consulare," a commonly known official identification card issued by the consulate to people who have lived in the United States for at least six months. The police agencies agreed.

That decision came shortly after Wells Fargo Bank announced that it would begin accepting the Mexican ID as a primary form of identification for people opening new accounts. U.S. Bank and Union Bank followed suit. And last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution urging police, sheriff and other local agencies to accept the card.

"We figured if Orange County could do it, then certainly we should be able to formalize it as well," said San Francisco Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval, who noted that the city is a "city of refuge" for immigrants.

He is working with the city attorney to draft an ordinance that will formally make it not only a policy but a local law to accept the ID cards.

Sandoval called it a "humanitarian gesture" to individuals who are detained for minor offenses and ultimately jailed or deported.

Anaheim police Sgt. Mike Hidalgo said the department has received a lot of e-mail--all negative and much of it accusing police of collaborating with the Mexican government.

"We put out a training bulletin: Here's the card; here's what it looks like," Hidalgo said. "If you run across it, just be aware of it. It's another form of ID that's out there, and we're accepting it."

Zeke Hernandez, president of the Santa Ana League of United Latin American Citizens, said the anti-immigration groups "want a 'filtered community,' and their perspective of a filtered community is a community with a minimal amount of immigrants. It's an extreme viewpoint."

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