Stop Mexican ID Acceptance in Orange County

Mexican ID cards come before council

Police chiefs voted to accept the documents, but opponents want their say.

December 5, 2001

By VIK JOLLY and MINERVA CANTO The Orange County Register

ANAHEIM -- About 50 people opposed to a decision by the Orange County police chiefs to accept Mexican identification cards lobbied the City Council on Tuesday night in an attempt to persuade members to order Anaheim police to reject the documents.

The Mexican government issues the identification cards, known as "matricula consular," to residents living abroad who can prove Mexican citizenship by presenting documents such as a birth certificate or voter ID card.

The Orange County Police Chiefs and Sheriff's Association unanimously agreed last month that the cards could serve as valid identification for people stopped for minor offenses.

The debate over the cards is the latest chapter in a years- long battle between immigration-rights and anti-immigration activists, both of whom this year have frequently turned their attention to Anaheim.

Tuesday night was no different as passionate debate over illegal immigration brought applause and insults.

While one opponent of the card waved the California flag from his seat, a proponent carried a sign that read: "Stop being unfair to immigrants."

Since the item was not on the agenda, the City Council did not take any action. Mayor Tom Daly confirmed with City Attorney Jack White that the meeting at which the police chiefs agreed to accept the card was lawful.

About 20 opponents of the card, several of them from Los Angeles County, spoke to the council, arguing that the card circumvents U.S. laws broken by immigrants who crossed the border illegally.

They expressed concerns about how the authenticity of the document would be verified. Others warned that the council by its inaction would set a dangerous precedent, and they threatened to vote members out of office.

"I am very disheartened that our police department is accepting IDs issued by a foreign government," said Nancy Long, an Anaheim resident. "We voters hold you responsible ... and we will remember at election time."

About seven people spoke in favor of the cards, arguing that they will save valuable police time. They labeled the opponents as racists and commended Police Chief Roger Baker for agreeing with the chiefs association's policy.

Reina Gonzales, also an Anaheim resident, told the council that she was once an illegal immigrant but is now a naturalized citizen.

"I'd like to remind every body, who picked your fruits and vegetables?" she said. "Not everybody is a criminal."

The identification-card idea has spread to San Francisco, where Mayor Willie Brown on Tuesday signed a resolution urging area law-enforcement agencies to recognize the Mexican card as valid identification.

Jose Vargas, a retired Santa Ana police officer, said the card is not a perfect solution but is the best idea yet to save officers' time spent figuring out who a person is.

"This is the only avenue they could take to practically solve the problem," he said. "People without an identification are a headache to law enforcement."

The chiefs association's action was immediately welcomed by immigration-support groups but criticized by those favoring strict enforcement of immigration laws.

Barbara Coe, chairwoman of the Huntington Beach- based California Coalition for Immigration Reform, said Anaheim was targeted Tuesday because Baker was a key proponent of accepting the card - a statement rejected by Anaheim police spokesman Rick Martinez.

The chiefs association's action followed a presentation by Miguel Angel Isidro-Rodriguez, Mexican consul in Santa Ana, who discussed the requirements for obtaining a card.

While Baker declined to comment, Martinez said the questions by the chiefs led to several changes in the card, including a serial number that will help authenticate the card. Officers also will be able to contact Mexican officials locally to verify an identity, he said.

"It's not a ticket to get out of jail," Martinez said. "It only identifies an individual."