Bank to accept sham Mexican ID's

Bank to begin accepting Mexican I.D. documents

Mark Bixler - Staff Thursday, April 11, 2002

Thousands of Mexican immigrants who can't bank will soon be able to make deposits and withdrawals at SunTrust Banks.

SunTrust has decided to accept a document called a matricula consular as proof of identity. The Mexican government issues matriculas to its nationals living abroad. It has lobbied hard in the last year for banks, hospitals and police in the United States to accept the documents as a valid identification.

SunTrust's decision mainly affects hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in the southeastern United States. Most cannot open accounts because they lack required identity documents, such as a driver's license or state identity card. Georgia and most other states restrict those documents to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants. Many banks also require Social Security numbers, something illegal immigrants can't legally obtain, but SunTrust said its customers do not need Social Security numbers.

Hugh Suhr, SunTrust spokesman, said branches in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington, D.C., will accept matriculas in a week or two.

"We determined there was a business opportunity to meet a definite customer need," he said.

The bank requires two forms of ID from people who want to open an account. At least one must be a driver's license, passport, state identification, military ID or, soon, a matricula.

Remedios Gomez Arnau, Mexican consul general in Atlanta, said immigrants who can't open accounts often carry cash. People who know that have assaulted and robbed them.

She met with SunTrust executives as part of an effort by 47 Mexican consuls in the United States to encourage acceptance of the matricula, a laminated card with a person's photo, name, address in the United States and date and place of birth in Mexico.

"I think that the matricula will help authorities, businesses and the Mexican community," she said.

To get a matricula, Mexican nationals must pay $29 and show a certified copy of their birth certificate and an official photo ID, such as a Mexican driver's license, voter registration card or a school ID. They also must show proof of their address in the United States, such as a lease or utility bill. Next month, Gomez said, the Mexican government plans to print matriculas in English and Spanish and make them more difficult to forge.

Mexico has issued matriculas for more than 100 years, but demand skyrocketed in the security-conscious climate after Sept. 11. The consulate in Atlanta issued about 200 matriculas a day before Sept. 11. It issued 300-400 a day after that date.

Gomez said the Fulton County tax commissioner accepts matriculas for people paying property tax on, say, a car.

And United Americas Bank, a Georgia bank owned by Latinos, also accepts the matricula. Nationally, Wells Fargo & Co. and Citibank, as well as smaller banks in Chicago and Houston, accept matriculas. So do law authorities in Orange County, Calif., and Maricopa County, Ariz. City officials in San Francisco require hospitals, schools and other public agencies to accept matriculas.

Bank of America is accepting the matricula as a test at 1,000 branches in Arizona, California and Texas, said Ken Preston, a spokesman. It will evaluate the results of the experiment before deciding whether to accept matriculas nationwide.

The trend toward accepting matriculas worries Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization in Washington that favors more stringent enforcement of immigration laws.

"The real purpose of this document is to facilitate the continued illegal residence ... of foreign nationals," he said. "This is about assisting people to break the law."