Mexico’s ID Makes Major Gains in U.S.

Jennifer Delson and Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 27

Despite opposition from groups that oppose illegal immigration, the matricula consular—an identification card issued by the Mexican government—has become increasingly common and widely used in California.

The number issued statewide has jumped from just under 190,000 five years ago to nearly 360,000 last year. Nationwide, the the number has gone from 528,000 to more than 4.7 million last year, according to the Mexican government.

Other countries, primarily in Latin America, are taking note of the matricula’s success. Argentina, El Salvador and Honduras either distribute comparable cards or plan to this fall. Colombia began a pilot program in late 2004.

Resembling driver’s licenses, the Mexican photo identification cards are a boon to U.S. businesses. They allow companies such as Sprint, Costco and Wells Fargo to capture the buying power of an eager and growing group of consumers: illegal immigrants.

The cards can be used to establish credit, open bank accounts, buy insurance and apply for government services.

“There was a need in the Latino community,” Wells Fargo spokeswoman Mary Trigg said of her company’s decision in 2001 to accept the card. “And we saw a market there.”

Margarita Hernandez, an illegal immigrant who lives in Orange County, said she used the ID card to open a Wells Fargo checking account and establish a line of credit that allowed her to buy a cellphone, a 1997 Dodge Caravan, a 56-inch flat-screen television, living room and dining room sets and a $1,000 gold watch.

“It’s all because I have this,” said Hernandez, proudly displaying a laminated card with her photo set against the colors of the Mexican flag.

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It “is a de facto amnesty,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that favors tighter immigration controls. “It’s a way of incorporating illegals into our society. It allows [the immigrant] to embed himself in our institutions.”

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, also disapproves of those who accept the card. “They are making money off of illegal activity,” he said.

The FBI says the cards are vulnerable to fraud and forgery, and immigration authorities caution that they do not protect immigrants from arrest and deportation.

But businesses and government officials say the cards are a practical necessity.

Several local governments across the state—including Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and Ventura counties—accept the identification cards as valid identification for county services and programs. The cards can be used for admittance to a hospital, to obtain a federal tax identification number and to borrow books from libraries.

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Approximate number of matriculas issued since 2000

Chicago

606,000

Los Angeles

555,000

Dallas

312,000

Santa Ana

230,000

San Francisco

213,000

Atlanta

205,000

Jose

174,000

Phoenix

163,000

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