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Mexican ID a Veiled Bid for Amnesty

August 06, 2003|Edward J. Erler and Scot J. Zentner | Edward J. Erler and Scot J. Zentner are fellows at the Claremont Institute.

Before 9/11, President Bush was intent on negotiating an amnesty deal with Mexican President Vicente Fox. Hoping to ingratiate himself with Latino voters, Bush urged compassion toward our neighbors to the south.

Fox too had a strong interest in amnesty. Illegal aliens in the United States send billions of dollars in much-needed revenue back to Mexico each year. In fact, these remittances, which Fox is determined to protect, are Mexico's second-largest source of income, behind oil exports. But, in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the American public's enthusiasm for amnesty waned.

Still, neither Bush nor Fox has given up on amnesty. Instead, they have been forced to seek other means, less visible to the public.

The most powerful alternative that has emerged is the matricula consular (literally "consular registration"), an identification card issued by the Mexican government to its citizens abroad. There has been a largely unnoticed, albeit well- orchestrated, campaign to achieve amnesty or quasi- amnesty through this otherwise seemingly innocent card.

All 47 Mexican consulates in the United States have been aggressively issuing the matriculas to its citizens regardless of their immigration status. The Mexican Foreign Ministry announced that more than a million cards were issued in 2002.

Mexican officials have lobbied for state and local governments, as well as private financial institutions, to accept the cards as official identification. In California, that campaign has been successful. The card is already recognized by many counties, cities and law enforcement agencies. The state Assembly recently passed two bills that together require all cities, counties and state agencies to accept the matricula. Their passage is virtually certain in the Democratic-dominated Senate.

Essentially, what this means is that California no longer cares to make a distinction between legal and illegal immigrants.

Clearly, no Mexican citizen who is legally in the United States needs such identification because he would possess either a visa or a green card. By providing official identification to illegal aliens, the Mexican government hopes to make their stay in the United States more secure. Illegal aliens who carry the matricula are far less likely to be arrested and deported than those with no papers at all. Not having an ID is often the reason illegal aliens are detained when stopped; the card can prevent encounters with police from escalating into arrests.

The card also makes it easier to open bank accounts, access social services and generally become more integrated members of local communities.

Many, including the FBI and some members of Congress, have expressed major concerns about the security of the matricula.

The card itself can easily be obtained with fraudulent documents. The Mexican government has no centralized electronic database for verifying the identity of the applicants. Only a birth certificate and one other form of identification are required, and these are authenticated visually by officials at the consulates, who have little incentive to question these documents.

It is well known that Mexico has a flourishing market in fraudulent documents; thus there is little reason to trust the method of granting matriculas.

The fraudulently obtained cards issued by the consulates can serve as cover for criminal enterprises, including money laundering and immigrant smuggling. One smuggler was arrested with seven matricula consular cards, each with the same photo but different names.

Also on the California Legislature's agenda is a bill that would allow illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses without a Social Security card.

In effect, California, like 13 other states, will make the matricula the key to obtaining a valid driver's license. If AB 25 passes, as expected, matriculas will be sufficient as ID -- replacing Social Security cards, now the most common form of identification for getting a driver's license.

Once an illegal alien is in possession of a driver's license, the door is open for unobstructed travel and a variety of social services -- such as emergency medical care, city services and marriage licenses, none of which require a Social Security card -- and other government benefits. Indeed, the possession of a valid driver's license will even make fraudulent voting by illegal aliens much easier.

The Bush administration has also made a significant contribution to the campaign for the acceptance of the matricula. The Treasury Department has recently written regulations allowing banks and other financial institutions to accept the matricula as valid identification.

With bank accounts, credit cards, ATM services, access to credit and even homeownership, illegal aliens can easily blend into the mainstream of American society. Court decisions have made these immigrants virtually impossible to deport once such strong ties to the community are established.

The widespread use of the matricula consular is the virtual equivalent of amnesty for illegal aliens. Since 9/11 -- and well before -- the American public was opposed to amnesty for illegal aliens and any increase in the number of legal aliens. Undoubtedly, Democratic legislators in California, as well as Bush and Fox, hope eventually to convert this temporary amnesty into a permanent one.

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