- The Washington Times - Monday, November 12, 2001

LOS ANGELES Police in Orange County will now accept identification cards issued by the Mexican government in addition to U.S.-issued IDs when questioning criminal suspects or interviewing victims and witnesses.
The new policy may make it less likely that illegal immigrants will be arrested for minor crimes and turned over to immigration authorities. The Orange County Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association voted unanimously Wednesday to make the change.
The same day, the huge Wells Fargo bank chain said it would begin accepting the Mexican ID cards as official documents, making it easier for immigrants to open legal bank accounts.
"Our job is to help people with their financial services," said bank spokeswoman Mary Trigg. "We have never asked people whether they are legal residents We're not the INS."
The plan was based on a test program in Austin, Texas. At the urging of the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles, the bank will make the change at all 3,000 branches in 23 states, Ms. Trigg said.
Police say they will accept the cards photo IDs issued by Mexican consulates to its citizens living abroad not to encourage illegal immigration, but to make victims of crime more comfortable when reporting crimes to police. Illegal immigrants fear that police investigating a crime will ask for ID from victims and might get suspicious if the victim fails to produce any documents.
"That is the utmost concern of ours," said Laguna Beach Police Chief Jim Spreine, head of the countywide law enforcement association. "People are not being given the benefit of Orange County law enforcement."
Likewise, Ms. Trigg said Wells Fargo is motivated in part by a desire to protect immigrants from crime. Police and immigrants' rights groups have told bankers that illegal immigrants tend to carry large amounts of cash, since they cannot open regular bank accounts, and are therefore tempting targets for thieves.
Critics of the immigration system, however, say such moves make life easier for illegal immigrants and implicitly condone those who evade the law to work in the U.S.
"We are breeding a culture of illegality among a huge segment of the immigrant community," said Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "We are teaching them that perpetuating a fraud on U.S. officials is a track to citizenship."
Mr. Stein said his group will push federal authorities to discourage local officials from accepting the foreign IDs and to ask the Mexican government to quit issuing the cards.
Chief Spreine sharply denies that the new policy is a surrender in the face of illegal immigration.
"In no way does the Orange County Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association, and all of the members represented in that association, have any support for illegal immigration we believe people should be in the country legally," he said. "However, we as law enforcement agencies have a responsibility to all persons in our communities, whether they are here legally or illegally. And unfortunately, there are too many persons that are not benefiting from law enforcement for fear of being deported or for fear of being treated differently by the police department."
He admitted, however, that the change might mean fewer illegal immigrants can be snared when stopped for minor crimes. Police routinely check the immigration status of suspects who cannot produce identification, he said.
Now that suspects can produce the Mexican card, police will have less cause to be suspicious when writing out a summons for a minor crime such as jaywalking or speeding.
"In this country, it's inappropriate for our officers to be saying fl'Oh, by the way, are you legal or illegal?'" he said. "That's disrespectful."
He insisted, however, that the change is not a free pass for illegal immigrants. Police will continue to refer known illegal aliens to immigration authorities.
"If at some point, the pro-illegal immigration groups think that law enforcement will not be taking any more persons into custody for illegal immigration once we discover them, that's not true either," he said.
The Mexican ID cards look much like a U.S. driver's license, with a photo of the card-holder. The cards are part of an aggressive effort by Mexican President Vicente Fox to secure better treatment for his country's citizens abroad, particularly those residing illegally in the United States.
Mr. Fox has pressed America to offer an amnesty to illegal immigrants, an option President Bush had rejected.


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