Security, New York Rejects Mexican ID Cards
The New York Times
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
December 28, 2002
By SUSAN SACHS
Dozens of local and state governments now recognize an embossed
Mexican consular document as a valid form of identification for
Mexicans who are here legally or illegally.
But New York City and New York State, with one of the fastest-growing
Mexican populations in the nation, are not about to join them.
Citing security concerns, Police Department officials said they
had rejected requests from the consulate to accept the new "matricula
consular," or consular ID card, as proof of identity for Mexican
The State Department of Motor Vehicles also has refused to recognize
the consular card, issued since March by Mexico's 43 consulates
in the United States, to its list of approved identity documents
for obtaining a driver's license.
Their reluctance and similar resistance in New Jersey, Connecticut
and other Northeastern states stands out against a trend
elsewhere in the country. Thirteen states now accept the Mexican
consular ID for purposes of applying for a driver's license, and
hundreds of police departments recognize it as proof of identity.
"I'm surprised that a state and city that are otherwise immigrant-friendly,
or at least supposed to be, would not accept it," said Juan A. Figueroa,
president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund,
a Hispanic advocacy group. "These are by and large the people who
make up the economic infrastructure of the city."
Many of the nation's illegal immigrants do not have any valid form
of identification, like a driver's license. If they have a passport,
they often fear showing it to the authorities. Even foreigners living
here legally rarely carry their passports with them, fearing they
could be lost or stolen.
The lack of an identity card is not fatal in New York City; a library
card can be obtained with a valid utility bill, and children can
be enrolled in public school without their parents showing a photo
ID. But it can have dire consequences in some cases.
In New York City, as in many cities, the police will not release
a person who is arrested on minor charges, and cannot provide an
acceptable form of identification, before a court appearance.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, possession of a valid photo
ID card has also become a prerequisite to enter many office buildings,
board an airplane, buy a ticket for a long-distance train ride or
wire money. The level of anxiety among Mexicans is reflected in
the popularity of the consular IDs. The New York consulate said
it expected to issue nearly 20,000 of them by the end of the year,
compared with 7,800 last year.
The Mexican consul general here, Salvador Beltrán del Río
Madrid, said he had campaigned privately, and with limited success,
for recognition of the matricula consular, making his case to government
officials and the police. But immigrant groups in New York have
not lobbied for its acceptance and it has not been publicly debated.
In other cities, the validity of the Mexican ID card has prompted
heated debates over whether recognition would amount to legitimization
of illegal immigrants. New York politicians, however, rarely raise
issues relating to the legal or illegal status of immigrants.
Instead, the conversations in city and state offices over the Mexican
ID have focused on the heightened concerns over security and identity
fraud since the terrorist attacks.
Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera of the Bronx said he had met several
times with officials of the Motor Vehicles Department in an attempt
to have the consular card accepted as a form of identification to
obtain a driver's license. He has not succeeded.
"They said that the New York state driver's license is seen as
such a valuable ID around the nation, because of the point system
and everything else, that it's treasured around the nation as an
excellent ID," said Mr. Rivera. "So they question whether by having
this collateral issue, it would weaken the value of the state driver's
New York State uses a system that assigns points to different types
of identification documents and first-time applicants for a driver's
license must show six points of identification as well as proof
of their birth dates and Social Security numbers.
A valid United States passport, for instance, is worth four points.
A naturalization certificate is worth three points, as are green
cards and foreign passports with valid student or business visas.
A major credit card counts for one point. Only certain documents
a passport for example are accepted as proof of an
applicant's birth date.
Mr. Rivera said he had suggested that the state send specialists
to Mexico to study the security protections that the Mexicans contend
are built in to the consular cards. If the state wants additional
safeguards, he said, they could require them of Mexico as they have
done in the past in the case of Canadian citizens seeking licenses.
Although intelligence officers from the New York Police Department
have interviewed officials at the Mexican consulate here, they have
not recommended that the department accept the consular ID. A law
enforcement officer said the department's opposition was based on
security concerns, but he declined to be more specific.
Mexican officials maintain that their consular ID card, based on
corroborating government documents from Mexico and designed to thwart
counterfeiting, is secure. It shows a current photograph, date of
birth and the address of the holder.
A number of banks, on the other hand, have come to see Mexican
laborers as potentially profitable customers who spend millions
of dollars each year in fees to transfer money back home. At least
60 United States financial institutions, according to the Mexican
government, now accept the consular ID as one of generally two identity
documents required to open a bank account.
Among those banks are Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and
FleetBoston. "We view it as a very legitimate form of identification,"
said James W. Schepker, a spokesman for FleetBoston in Hartford.
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