Practicality won out at the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors this week when it reaffirmed foreign consulate identification cards as valid ID for county services and programs. The policy, adopted 18 months ago, allows undocumented immigrants, primarily from Mexico, to enter public buildings and hospitals, obtain a federal tax identification number, attend PTA meetings at public schools that require parent identification, borrow books from county libraries and use U.S. banks.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the Mexican government ID card, known as the matricula consular, has also made it easier to identify and track immigrants who would be in the United States anyway.
The two county supervisors who tried to repeal use of the matricula charged that the cards could be forged. But as many Los Angeles residents are fully aware, phony driver's licenses, Social Security cards and immigration documents are also available on the street. The best defense against such frauds is to learn to spot them.
The Mexican consular cards have 13 security features, some as evident as fine-line patterns on the front and others invisible to the naked eye -- like encrypted text over the photo, detectable only with a special lens.
In implementing the Patriot Act, the Treasury Department in 2002 gave U.S. banks approval to "establish a customer identification program with reasonable procedures for identifying any person ... seeking to open an account." Wells Fargo grabbed the opportunity and has gained more than half a million matricula-bearing new customers nationwide. The bank's employees are trained to tell a valid card from a street fake, bank officials say.
The Mexican ID won't save an illegal immigrant from being deported. It can't be used to drive, vote, obtain a Social Security number or get a work permit. Applicants must apply in person at their local consulate, providing proof of address and a birth certificate or a tamper-resistant Mexican voting card. Aspirants are photographed and fingerprinted. Police departments generally approve of the matricula consular.
The supervisors in the majority Tuesday, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky, called for better training for county employees to detect fraudulent cards. They also held to the common-sense view that society is better off with the matricula than without.