L.A. Times, February 8, 2003


Stop Accepting Special IDs Issued to Mexicans
System could be abused and poses constitutional problems.

By Hal Netkin

Last May, the L.A. City Council voted for a six-month pilot experiment for the city and the LAPD to officially recognize matricula consular identity cards issued by the Mexican government to Mexican nationals living in the United States. The decision deadline has passed and the council must now decide whether to make the card acceptance permanent.

The ID cards, which do not bear the holders' fingerprints, are issued without requiring the applicant to submit to a criminal or medical background check. Although LAPD officers must accept the cards as official identification when issuing a citation, the cards' information cannot be verified or used to check criminal records (known as a "make") or check immigration status. The ID cards can also be used to apply for social services, open bank accounts, cash checks, sign leases and rental agreements and board airplanes. The IDs are not recognized by the INS and do not grant legal status to the bearers.

However, L.A.'s recognition of only Mexican ID cards may be in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment not only guarantees that all people be granted equal protection under the law, it also requires that all laws be enforced equally. If a city accepts Mexican IDs as a legal form of identification for undocumented Mexican immigrants without offering the same treatment to undocumented immigrants of other nationalities, the city is selectively enforcing laws. Guatemala, El Salvador and Poland are creating IDs for their own nationals. If the city offers to recognize IDs from all countries, the city would then be making immigration law, which is Congress' job.

But the matricula consular are not only a bad idea on constitutional grounds, they invite abuse. One of the important reasons for persons to hold verifiable identification, such as California driver licenses, is so that the city, county and state attorneys can track deadbeat dads. That is one of the reasons that in 1994, the California Legislature put into law that applicants for California driver licenses or IDs have valid Social Security numbers.

The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are neither criminals nor deadbeat dads, but L.A.'s acceptance of unverifiable Mexican IDs, could be a magnet that attracts a few bad apples. A father who wants to abandon his responsibility to his family could apply for the ID card. This would give him a new form of ID without pertinent information needed by law enforcement. The ID card is not just a free pass for undocumented criminals and deadbeat dads; it is also a free pass for American citizen and legal resident criminals and deadbeat dads who already have valid California IDs. The Mexican government recognizes dual citizenship. If a person is a U.S. citizen or legal resident and also holds Mexican citizenship, the Mexican Consulate will issue him or her a matricula consular.

When the Los Angeles City Council meets to decide whether to permanently recognize the Mexican IDs, it should vote no.

Hal Netkin is a community activist who lives in Van Nuys and is a former secession candidate for city council. E-mail: halnet@pacbell.net