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Months of county work on ID cards for mexican nationals may be undone

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Posted: Friday, July 4, 2003 10:00 pm

Congress and the FBI might be about to undo months of county work.

In May, Supervisor Steve Gutierrez introduced a resolution that would allow Mexican nationals living in the county to use the matricula card as acceptable identification.

The card, which has about 27 layers of security, is issued by the Mexican consulate general throughout the U.S.

In May, Jose Luis Soberanes Reyes of the Mexican Consulate General in Sacramento made a presentation to the board on the security measures taken by the Mexican government before it issues the card.

Gutierrez requested a countywide survey of which departments accepted the card as identification and what the financial impact was to the county.

Depending on the survey's answers, the board would then vote to either accept or reject the card as acceptable ID countywide.

But Gutierrez said the surveys may all be for nothing, and he's wondering why state lawmakers directed counties to accept the matricula cards if the federal government might not.

His comments are based on two House resolutions, and testimony June 26 before a congressional subcommittee on immigration, that has government agencies opposing the card.

The testimony came from Steve McGraw, from the FBI's Office of Intelligence.

McGraw testified that the card was not reliable as identification and could be used by terrorists or criminals. His testimony is the official policy of the FBI, said Karen Ernst, spokeswoman for the FBI office in Sacramento. The testimony came on HR 502, authored by Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who introduced the bill in January.

Since then, another bill has appeared, also against accepting the card as legal identification.

HR 687, authored by Elton Gallegly, R-Thousand Oaks, would not be as broad and sweeping as Tancredo's bill, said Tom Pfeifer, Gallegly's communications director.

Tancredo's bill, which has 19 co-sponsors, would prohibit the acceptance of any identification card unless it was issued by the federal or a state government.

Gallegly's bill would prohibit the acceptance of any identification card from any foreign government, except a passport. His bill has 97 co-sponsors.

Gallegly introduced the bill for several reasons, Pfeifer said, including national security concerns.

"We are giving away our sovereign rights to say what goes on within our borders," he said.

Also, there is concern that using the card as acceptable identification could lead to an illegal use of a driver's license.

Pfeifer said several of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists had valid driver's licenses, which is accepted as legal identification.

And there is no way the U.S. government can test for a card's validity.

Another bill, HR 773, addresses only the card's acceptance by financial institutions. That bill, authored by Rep Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, is in the House Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit.

Gutierrez said he introduced the idea because state legislative directives told counties to accept the card as identification. He also said it could be used as recourse against anyone committing a crime.

If a person commits a crime, an identification card of any kind can help determine the person's identity and where he or she lives, he said.

With the matricula card, at least law enforcement agencies can go to the Mexican government and track someone down.

A card could also help Mexican nationals open a bank account and deposit their checks. Often, those people are robbed after cashing their checks as check-cashing services.

The card is the first step in billing the Mexican government for services provided in the United States to its people, he said.

"I don't see why the Mexican government shouldn't be billed for their people," he said.

So far, the matricula card is accepted as identification by the county sheriff, said Nellie Stone, a spokeswoman for the county sheriff.

And some banks in the county and San Joaquin General Hospital accept the card for identification only.

Besides the hospital, the county's office of Substance Abuse and also Mental Health Division were part of the survey Gutierrez requested in May.

Dan Bava, director of the county's Office of Substance Abuse, said his department accepts the card for identification.

County Administrator Manuel Lopez said the departments had to reply by Thursday to the survey.

Once the responses are tallied, he said, it'll take two weeks to present a report to the board.

On Thursday, Marbella Michel, a spokeswoman for the Consulate General of Mexico in Sacramento, said the consulate could not comment for or against the card in light of developments in the House of Representatives.

Instead, she said, the Mexican government would wait and see what stand the U.S. State Department takes.

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