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Panel OKs Use of Identity Cards

The bill would require the state to honor Mexican and other foreign ID documents. It is sent to another Senate committee.

June 18, 2003|Carl Ingram | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A bill that would require state government to accept Mexican and other foreign identification cards as proof of identity in California was narrowly approved by the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

Documents, such as the matricula consular that Mexico issues its citizens in other countries, now are recognized by more than a dozen city and county governments in California, including Los Angeles. Some banks, retailers and police departments also accept them as valid identification.

The bill, approved by the Assembly in April, passed on a 4-1 vote, the bare majority of the six-member Senate committee, and was sent to the Appropriations Committee for further scrutiny.

Supporters of the bill (AB 25) by Assemblyman Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) said the foreign identification cards could help immigrants -- be they legal or illegal -- open bank accounts, establish credit and identify themselves to law enforcement.

But opponents, including several police and sheriffs' organizations, said potential use of the matricula consular troubled them because they feared that the cards could be easily counterfeited. Officials also worry that other countries might issue the documents without thoroughly investigating an applicant's criminal history.

However, law enforcement representatives indicated that they are working with Nunez to resolve the concerns and may end up dropping their opposition to the bill.

Nunez defended the documents as safe and secure from fraud. "It is much easier to counterfeit an identification card, a driver's license and much easier to falsify even a U.S. passport than it is [to counterfeit] a matricula consular," he said.

Sen. Bob Margett (R-Arcadia) called the bill a "laudable" proposal but told Nunez that the issue was better dealt with nationally instead of by individual states. "You're asking the state of California to accept the identification of a foreign country. I feel this is more of a federal issue."

Opponent Richard Altman, representing the Federation for Immigration Reform, charged that the bill's "whole purpose" is to require state agencies, especially the Department of Motor Vehicles, to recognize the matricula consular so driver's licenses could be available to "illegal aliens, criminals and terrorists."

But Sen. Byron Sher (D-Stanford), who voted for the bill, asked its supporters repeatedly to identify state government agencies that demand proof of identity as a condition of doing business with citizens.

Nunez and his backers noted that visitors at adult and juvenile prisons must show identification before they are admitted and that IDs are required by some health and human services agencies.

The bill also underwent a last-minute amendment that succeeded in turning some opponents into supporters, among them the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the National Council of La Raza, an immigrant rights group.

They switched when Nunez wrote into the bill a requirement that security standards for acceptance of a foreign identification document could be no more stringent than those used for California state identification cards.

The immigrant rights groups said they are trying to reach an agreement with police to prohibit sharing information obtained from a matricula consular with federal immigration authorities or other third parties.

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