Last May, the Los Angeles City Council voted for a six-month pilot experiment for the city and the Police Department to officially recognize matricula consular identity cards issued by the Mexican government to Mexican nationals living in the United States. The council must now decide whether to make acceptance of the card permanent.
The ID cards, which do not bear the holder's fingerprints, are issued without requiring the applicant to submit to a criminal background check. Although LAPD officers must accept the card as official identification when issuing a citation, the card's information cannot be verified or used to check criminal records or immigration status.
The ID cards may also be used to apply for social services, open bank accounts, cash checks, sign leases and rental agreements and board airplanes. The IDs are not recognized by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and do not grant legal status to the bearers.
L.A.'s recognition of only Mexican ID cards may be in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment not only guarantees that all people be granted equal protection under the law, it also requires that all laws be enforced equally. If a city accepts Mexican IDs as legal identification for undocumented Mexican immigrants without offering the same treatment to undocumented immigrants of other nationalities, it is selectively enforcing laws. Guatemala, El Salvador and Poland are creating IDs for their own nationals. If a city offers to recognize IDs from all countries, it will be making immigration law, which is Congress' job.
But the matricula consular is not only a bad idea on constitutional grounds; it invites abuse. One of the important reasons for people to hold verifiable identification, such as California driver's licenses, is so the city, county and state attorneys can track deadbeat dads. That is one of the reasons that in 1994 the California Legislature put into law a requirement that applicants for California driver's licenses or IDs have valid Social Security numbers.
The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are neither criminals nor deadbeat dads, but L.A.'s acceptance of unverifiable Mexican IDs could be a magnet that attracts a few bad apples. A father who wants to abandon his responsibility to his family could apply for the identification card. This would offer him an identity -- and all the advantages that confers -- without requiring pertinent information needed by law enforcement.
The ID card is not just a "free pass" for undocumented criminals and deadbeat dads; it is also a free pass for American-citizen and legal-resident criminals and deadbeat dads who already have valid California IDs. The Mexican government recognizes dual citizenship. If a person is a U.S. citizen or legal resident and also holds Mexican citizenship, the Mexican Consulate will issue him or her a matricula consular.
When the Los Angeles City Council meets to decide whether to permanently recognize the Mexican IDs, it should vote no.