Stateline Story

Mexican IDs Gain In Western States

The change began in California and Texas late last year, and has spread to Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and other states.

The move potentially will make life easier for Mexican citizens who live and work in the United States as resident aliens and for some in the U.S. illegally.According to some estimates, the total may exceed 7,000,000 people.

A push by Mexican President Vicente Fox to step up efforts to deal with emigrant identity issues began shortly after Fox was elected, but accelerated in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

While the Mexican ID cards known as Matriculas Consulars have been around for 20 years, their use has become more important with new restrictions and scrutiny along the U.S. border with Mexico. Some resident aliens to come and go without them.

Acceptance of the cards as proof of identity in the United States got a powerful boost from last November's decision by Wells Fargo Bank, the Bank of America and other financial institutions to accept the ID for bank accounts, the transfer of money internationally and other traditional financial services.

Wells Fargo and Bank of America said they would accept the ID cards nationally, meaning their branches in every state will now accept the identification.

"This is a major development that affects the lives of thousands of Mexican immigrants in Colorado, tremendously," said Mario Hernandez, a spokesman for the Mexican Consulate in Denver.

"Until now, these immigrants have been unable to open bank accounts, and it has been very difficult for them to transfer money back to their families in Mexico," he said. "They have had to keep their money in their mattresses, which makes them targets for robbery, and jeopardizes their safety."

He said acceptance of the ID cards not only opens up a vast market to U.S. banks estimated by some to be worth upwards of $3 billion a year but it helps legal aliens and in some case illegal aliens -- avoid "outrageous rates" charged by alternative financial outlets to cash checks and perform other money transactions.

Mexican Consulates like the one in Denver and in Los Angeles, where Wells Fargo and Bank of America were first approached have been meeting with government and business leaders at many levels to talk about the issue.

Efforts by the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles also brought agreements by California law enforcement agencies to accept the ID card a move that has sparked protest in some California communities where anti-immigration groups are active.

In Colorado, several county jails are accepting the card for identity of resident alien visitors who want to visit a relative who had been arrested. Hernandez said the consulate continues to meeting with county sheriff organizations and others to convince them that the ID cards are credible and reliable.

Hundreds of thousands of the cards have been issued by Mexican consulates to Mexican citizens in the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks. Hernandez said the consulate in Denver alone issued 9,310 ID cards in 2000, and 20,120 in 2001 the bulk of which were requested after Sept. 11.

"October was a very, very busy month, and that has continued like that since," he said. "We've issued 5,247 ID cards in January and February, and I believe we'll exceed the 2001 numbers easily this year."

Wells Fargo Bank announced in November that it would accept the ID cards as one of two ID's required to open accounts, transfer money internationally, and conduct other financial transactions.

"The Hispanic population is growing in the U.S. Right now, just in Colorado alone...they make up about 20 percent of the population. That is a very significant number of people, and a group that we want to be able to serve." Cristie Drumm, a spokesperson for Wells Fargo in Denver, told Stateline.org.

Police agencies in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona have started accepting the Mexican ID card as valid for police-stop identity documents.

Civil rights activists have long complained that many Hispanic resident aliens have been held in jails unnecessarily over minor offenses like speeding, because they could not readily prove who they were.

Opening the door to traditional banking services and other services, activists say, helps "mainstream" Mexican citizens, and integrate them into U.S. Society. But there is resistance to that effort in some circles.

In Colorado earlier this year, the General Assembly rejected the use of the Matriculas Consulars as identity documents that would be considered valid for obtaining a Colorado driver's license.