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Ventura County to Consider Accepting Mexican-Issued IDs

Supervisors will debate whether immigrants can use the cards as official identification. Los Angeles is using them on a trial basis.

October 22, 2002|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County supervisors today will consider allowing Mexican immigrants -- legal or illegal -- to use a Mexican identification card to do business at county offices.

The state of California and a handful of local governments have begun accepting the card, a matricula consular, as valid ID, said Supervisor John Flynn, who will ask his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to do the same.

Acceptance of the card would allow Mexican nationals residing here to obtain marriage certificates, business licenses, senior discounts and library cards, the supervisor said.

It also would encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes and cooperate with police, Flynn said.

Many fear being detained by law enforcement because they lack proper ID, he said.

He stressed that illegal immigrants could not use the cards to obtain government benefits or to alter their legal status.

Nor does it confer driving privileges to undocumented motorists, a controversial benefit sought by legislation that was vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis last month.

"This will make the lives of people living here more comfortable," said Flynn, whose Oxnard-based district includes the county's largest immigrant population. "It should not be controversial at all."

Advocates of immigration control, however, say that if Ventura County agrees to accept the card as valid ID, it will legitimize people who have broken laws to enter the country.

"People who are in the country legally have documentation, so the only people who need these cards are illegal aliens," said David Ray, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, an immigration watchdog group. "They should be accepted by government offices only as a one-way bus pass back to the border."

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), a critic of illegal immigration, called Flynn's proposal absurd.

"It is a quasi-amnesty, and I disagree with that," Gallegly said. "We are a country of immigrants. But we are also a country of laws. And we are seeing a tremendous backlash to immigration overall as a result of illegal immigration."

With the nation focused on rooting out terrorism here and abroad, the matricula provides another avenue for terrorists to claim they are legally in the country, the congressman said.

"This document is issued by a foreign government," he said. "We don't have any control over who gets them and the legitimacy of them."

Mexican Consul Fernando Gamboa, of the Oxnard consulate, asked Flynn to bring the proposal to the board. San Francisco and Oakland accept the matricula as official identification, and Los Angeles is doing so on a trial basis.

Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and Los Angeles counties also accept it. In June, the state Assembly passed a resolution urging all local governments to follow suit.

"We are making a special effort to get this accepted in all counties in California," Gamboa said.

Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez says there is good reason. Immigrants were being robbed in the city's downtown, targeted by thieves who knew they were carrying large amounts of cash because they did not have the identification necessary to open a bank account, Lopez said.

In recent months, however, the problem has waned because Wells Fargo and Bank of America have agreed to accept the matricula as formal ID, the chief said. The card also helps law enforcement quickly identify criminal suspects, Lopez said. "Making an identification can sometimes be very difficult and confusing," he said.

Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks is on vacation, and could not be reached for comment. Undersheriff Craig Underwood said the department needs to study Flynn's proposal before taking a position.

"We need to enter into discussions on why the proposal is needed and what its implications are for law enforcement," Underwood said.

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