The challenge now is to get state and municipal agencies, including all local and state police, to recognize the cards as valid and legitimate forms of identification.
The “matricula consular” is a $29 laminated identity card that bears the Mexican citizen’s photograph, name, address in the United States and the card carrier’s birth date and birthplace in Mexico. It does not replace a visa or passport but, in some cases, has already been accepted as a secondary source of identification.
In unanimously voting to recognize the cards as a legitimate form of identification, the City Council’s vote made Lansing the second Michigan municipality, and the second state capital in America, to officially accept the cards as proof of identification for city services.
Representatives from the Mexican Consulate have already met with the prime players in Michigan’s political power base, including Gov. John Engler, governor-elect Jennifer Granholm, and the mayors of Detroit, Lansing, Dearborn, Grand Rapids, Holland, Wyoming and Kalamazoo.
Cities around the country already accepting the matricula consular cards as official identification include Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland.
There has been renewed interest in the issuance and security of matricula consulars since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks last year. However, Mexican officials point to advanced features on the cards as ways to address those concerns.
“In order to make them a more secure document, we use modern technology like digital photos, lamination and magnetic strips on the back of the cards,” said Antonio Meza Estrada, Mexico’s consular general in Detroit.
Information on the card also is noted in both English and Spanish, he added.
“It is difficult enough to navigate, reside and to make a living in a foreign country when one does not speak or read the language,” said Israel Cuéllar, the director of the Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University. “To add to this handicap the absence of legitimate identification makes even the most routine tasks enormously problematic.”
The matricula consular cards are designed to allow immigrants to enter public buildings, directly pay for utilities, register their children in schools and open bank accounts, Cuéllar said.
“It goes a long way in establishing legitimacy,” Cuéllar added.
Immigrants and American financial institutions are especially interested in identity cards such as the matricula consular because of the massive amounts of money earned in the United States and transferred to Mexican accounts. Immigrants who have no state-issued identification cards have been unable to open banking accounts; the issuance of the matricula consular cards changes that.
It is projected that Mexicans living in the United States send more than $9.5 billion back to families in Mexico and most pay widely varying fees to transfer the money. More than a dozen major banks, with hundreds of branch offices across the Midwest, are now providing savings and checking accounts and automated teller machine services to immigrants with matricula consular cards.
About 8.5 million Mexicans currently live in the United States, according to consulate figures. Nearly 50,000 migrant workers come into Michigan each year, JSRI researchers estimate.
For the state police, the integrity of both the card and the information provided is key to recognizing the matricula consulars as legitimate sources of identification during traffic stops and questioning, according to a state police spokesman.
“If a trooper stops a person and the card is presented, it will be considered another form of picture ID — just like a student ID — but it does not replace a legitimate driver’s license,” said Michael Prince, a state police public affairs manager. “Officers are trained to understand that any ID can be fraudulently obtained or illegally manufactured, so they have to take that into consideration when any identification card is provided.”
Estrada said the Mexican government has made great strides in reaching its citizens living in the Midwest by organizing and providing “mobile consulates” that routinely venture to various cities. The mobile consulates provide greater access to consulate services, including the issuance of the matricula consulars, to Mexican citizens living and working in the United States.
“It means that we move all consular services to another city, like Kalamazoo, Hart, Grand Rapids, Holland and more,” Estrada said.
A mobile consulate was set up in Shelby and Holland in July, and in South Bend in early October. It’s coming to Pontiac on Nov. 16. More than 12,000 matricula consulars have been issued in the last two years, Estrada said, and more than a third of those — about 5,000 — have been issued in western Michigan during the last six months.
“The mobile consulate reduces the problems for Mexican nationals to travel, lose a working day and incur all the problems associated with getting services for all of their family members,” he added.
The success in getting matricula consular cards recognized as valid forms of identity has not gone unnoticed by other foreign governments. The government of Guatemala has begun issuing its own form of identity cards for its citizens living and working in the United States. The governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Poland are considering similar moves.