Saturday, October 12, 2002

ID cards bring hope to Mexicans

Immigrants seeking services, respect

By John Seewer
The Associated Press

TOLEDO - Jeremias Vazquez couldn't cash a check or keep his money in the bank. He couldn't turn on the water or gas at his home, because he was an undocumented immigrant without valid identification.

He is one of hundreds of Mexican immigrants - legal and illegal - who hope that a national Mexican identification card issued by the 47 Mexican consulates nationwide will give them access to everyday services.

“It gives them standing, respect and recognition,” said Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, which persuaded Toledo's City Council this summer to begin recognizing the card as a valid identification.

Mexican consulates first began issuing the cards 120 years ago to citizens living abroad. The plastic cards, which resemble a driver's license, include a picture, the person's name, birth date, birthplace and address.

Within the last year, government agencies and businesses increasingly have accepted the “matricula consular” as a valid ID. San Francisco in December became the first city to recognize the card. Toledo, Atlanta, Columbus, Chicago and Los Angeles have followed suit.

The cards give Mexican immigrants “equal benefits without the fear of retribution,” said San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.

But they do not provide citizenship or replace a state driver's license.

They provide a means for people to turn on utilities, set up bank accounts and check out library books. They can also help parents enroll children in school or buy airline tickets to visit relatives in Mexico.

More than 60 banks, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America, accept the cards as proof of identity. Police departments in San Francisco and Phoenix permit their use for minor infractions that before could have resulted in jail or deportation.

The cards also offer some protection as security and suspicion has increased since the terrorist attacks a year ago. Consulates have seen a wave of immigrants seeking out the cards.

The San Francisco consulate expects to issue 80,000 cards this year, three times the number over past years. In Detroit, workers give out 50 each day, said Consul Antonio Meza Estrada.

Mr. Velasquez, whose organization represents migrant farm workers in Ohio, Florida and North Carolina, hopes the cards will break down barriers and lead to legalization for thousands of undocumented immigrants.

“It is just another important step in the larger struggle to gain immigrants their deserved respect and legitimacy,” he said.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service can't stop consulates from issuing the cards, but makes it known that they do not carry any weight for immigration issues, said agency spokesman Dan Kane.

There also are other concerns.

Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said it's possible that the card could be used by drug dealers to buy plane tickets.

“It would allow them to have the tools of the trade,” he said.

There are about 15,000 Mexican workers in the Toledo area.

About 180 people showed up at the Farm Labor Organizing Committee's office recently on the first day that the consulate began issuing the cards in Toledo.

“It's something I've wanted a long time,” Mr. Vazquez said.

He wants to set up a bank account that would allow his family in Mexico to withdraw money from an automatic teller machine anytime they want, eliminating wiring fees.

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