The Mexican government is convincing hundreds of local government and police departments across the United States to accept its identification cards used by legal and illegal aliens, which critics say amounts to a backdoor amnesty for illegal aliens.
The cards are accepted by more than 800 police departments in 13 states, according to Miguel Manterrubio, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington. Published reports indicate more than 400 cities now consider the Matricula Consular cards proper identification, including Montgomery County, which began recognizing them last month.
Acceptance of the cards means police, cities and private companies typically responsible for turning illegal residents over to federal authorities are relenting. Supporters say the card allows immigrants to open bank accounts to keep money secure and helps prevent crime because the aliens are not afraid to seek police help.
The Mexican Embassy denies its 47 consulate offices in the United States are lobbying or contacting cities and counties directly urging them to accept the "matricula," which means "to register" in Spanish.
"It's a process in which they share information. ... I would not say we contact them," said Mr. Manterrubio.
"What the consulate does is share information. We explain why we consider it a secure document, and if they share that opinion it is a secure document they accept it as identification," said Mr. Manterrubio.
By appealing to the local government level, the Mexican government is "undermining" the federal government, which has jurisdiction over authorizing identification cards of foreigners and is "absolutely unacceptable," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and author of federal legislation to end acceptance of the cards by banks.
"How many ... immigration systems are we running in this country for crying out loud?" said Mr. Tancredo.
The Mexican Embassy did not follow through on its offer to share the list of cities or states that officially accept the cards. However, a partial list compiled by The Washington Times shows the cards are accepted by some cities and counties in New Mexico, Georgia, Texas, California, Illinois, Florida, Michigan, Washington, Missouri, Nevada and South Carolina.
The cards are also accepted by more than 70 banks including Bank of America, Bank One, and Citibank.
Colorado recently outlawed use of the card already approved by many cities there, and legislation to restrict the card has been introduced in the Arizona and Iowa state legislatures. The card has been rejected in New York, and critics of the card in Utah are also lobbying for legislation banning it.
Critics of the card say it is intended to circumvent Congress, which since September 11 has been reluctant to grant amnesty to the estimated 9 million immigrants living in the United States. Half are Mexican. They also say the only people using these cards are illegal aliens, because legal immigrants already have valid ID such as their green card or state-issued driver's license.
Mr. Tancredo said Mexican consulates actively lobbied Colorado cities to approve the cards.
"That is exactly what is going on and has been going on. They are not bashful about it," said Mr. Tancredo, who is sponsoring legislation to end acceptance of the cards by banks,
Colorado state Sen. John Andrews, co-sponsor of the bill outlawing the card and Senate president, said state officials believe some lobbying pressure was coming directly from the government in Mexico.
"I'm outraged at lobbying activity by foreign diplomats of any kind from any country. That is absolutely an inappropriate role for them," said Mr. Andrews.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies said the lobbying effort is "pretty sophisticated, comprehensive, and organized."
"This is not just one guy in charge, this is run from Mexico City as part of a concentrated, deliberate effort," said Mr. Krikorian.
Dan McCrea, South Miami city commissioner, agrees cities are not the proper authority and opposed the card that did not win commission approval in June.
"We're a local government and it's quite beyond our bailiwick," Mr. McCrea said.
The South Miami City Commission, Mr. McCrea said, was "certainly lobbied" by the consulate in Florida. A spokeswoman for Montgomery County, however, said they were not lobbied and took the initiative upon themselves to approve the cards for valid proof of identify and residence.
Spokeswoman Sue Tucker said the county viewed it as their role to also encourage other Latin American countries to issue the cards to citizens living in the United States. Montgomery County also accepts Guatemalan identity cards.
Nicaragua, Honduras, Poland, Peru, and El Salvador are now looking to issue cards in the United States for their citizens.
In addition to proof of residence, local governments have accepted the identification to apply for library cards, marriage licenses, and some social services.
Mr. Andrews said Denver may continue dispensing city services including welfare to card holders.
"Denver may defy the new law and essentially dare the state to sue them, but I very much hope that scofflaw approach does not win out," said Mr. Andrews.
News reports indicate that Mexican nationals are flocking to apply for the cards at special events held by the consulate offices. The cards cost $29 and can be obtained with a birth certificate, photo ID and proof of residence such as a phone bill.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram said hundreds of people began to arrive at 4 a.m. June 11 to receive the cards at an event at the Rose Marine Theater. About 500 were processed that day and the consulate scheduled another processing day for June 26.
Migrants in Miami-Dade County started lining up at 2 a.m. on May 30 and 1,000 cards were issued. That's about half of what Mexican officials expected to issue, down from 2,000 during an event last year.
A mobile consulate unit moved through the state of North Carolina in May issuing the cards at stops in Hilton Head, Greenville, Columbia, and Charlotte.
Mexico has opened new consulate offices in the last year in Indianapolis, Kansas City, Mo., and Las Vegas. Opponents of a new office in Raleigh, N.C., protested that office on September 11, 2002, saying its sole existence was to issue the Matricula Consular cards.
Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), called the card a "document designed to help people break the law."
"They're trying to get through the back door what they can't get through the front door, and that's de facto amnesty," Mr. Stein said.
The Mexican government was openly lobbying local governments that have "knuckled under" pressure until recently, said Craig Nelson, executive director of Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement.
"There are a growing number of cities putting this on hold until further study. The headlong rush we saw a year ago is gone," Mr. Nelson said.
Commissioners in Kalamazoo, Mich., voted unanimously June 2 to delay action on approving the cards, according to the Western Herald, which said "the city was petitioned to accept the cards by the Mexican Consulate of Detroit."