Let me address from the onset that most of the proponents for municipal identification cards are trying to help unauthorized immigrants. It has always been the unauthorized immigrants that the proponents hope to help with the identifications, although and unfortunately, they have chosen to mask their activism by avoiding the immigration debate. It is clear why they did this. It is because immigration is such a polarizing issue that it usually bogs down any political initiative to the point that it becomes untenable.
I believe this is the wrong approach because it creates a second class of human being by trying to help them but avoiding acknowledging that they exist by not naming in the discussion. I have already detailed my reasons on a previous blog post.
The Complexities of Immigration
Immigration is a complex set of problems that involves many issues each with their own operatives protecting their own political agendas. Because of the complexity, no one wants to have an honest and open discussion about immigration. Labor advocates do not want to have it because immigrants keep wages low. Political operatives see the issue as a hot potato because any position on immigration will offend an entrenched constituency and therefore no politician wants to dive into those controversial waters.
These controversies have led to the creation of mistaken notions about immigration and what it is to be undocumented or unauthorized. It is so complex that someone, today, could be allowed to legally cross the Cordova Bridge and suddenly become “undocumented” because they are having lunch in Santa Teresa. There are certain “statuses” under which someone is legally admitted to the United States but cannot cross a state line without another required document.
The problem is that immigration rules and laws are so convoluted and incompatible to each other that being “undocumented” can happen suddenly, unexpectedly and unintentionally. Being undocumented could be as simple as a resident alien, legally allowed to live and work in the United States, goes for a morning jog and find themselves “undocumented” because instead of the green card they are supposed to carry with them at all times they are carrying no identification on them or a driver’s license instead.
Some of you are probably groaning by now, no one is going to deport you for not having your green card on your morning jog. That is normally true, but it does not negate the fact that the lack of it makes the jogger “undocumented.”
A Municipal Identification Card Makes Someone Legal
The other notion being perpetuated is that a municipal identification card would somehow convey upon an unauthorized individual some type of recognition that their presence in the United States is recognized as legal. This is impossible as only the federal government has the authority to legislate immigration policy. If that were the case then the so-called “sanctuary cities” would have issued identification cards to immigrant populations. Additionally, if that were the case, Arizona would have rounded up all undocumented individuals in the state and promptly deported them. That did not happen and therefore this notion that a municipal identification card would, somehow, convey a legal immigration status upon someone needs to be put to rest.
However, and this is important to understand is that a municipal identification card would help individuals when it comes to things that a municipality, like El Paso, does have authority and responsibility for. There are many examples of this but I will only point out of few to you.
Take, for example, a parent who needs to take their child out of school early for an emergency. The child is a US citizen. Accept this as fact for the purposes of this example and forget the notion of anchor babies for a moment because if anchor babies are a problem for you then Ted Cruz is an undocumented alien as well. There are many ways to be a US citizen without being an anchor child. Back to my example, the parent is an unauthorized immigrant and does not have a US-issued identification card on them. The parent that is US citizen has been in a serious accident and the unauthorized individual needs to take the child to the hospital.
However, because of heightened security and the lack of US identification the school refuses to release the child to the parent. Another example would be an unauthorized dependent of a US parent not being allowed to see their dying parent because the hospital refuses to allow them in because they cannot prove their relationship to the dying parent. Alternatively, it be could something as simple as an unauthorized parent wanting to see their child compete in an athletic event.
A municipal identification card would alleviate those problems and many more.
Municipal Identification Would Allow Immigrants Access to Social Services
This invariably leads us to another immigration issue debate. As complex as immigration laws are the laws and rules that govern social welfare programs are as complex or more. If unauthorized immigrants have access to social services now, whether legally or illegally, the municipal identification card will not change that at all. Ultimately, those who administer the social welfare programs are responsible for ensuring the laws are followed. However, immigration is the hot potato no one wants to address and it has become the convenient scapegoat for entrenched political agendas on both sides of the isle. Social services is an area of politics that the undocumented are conveniently used to push forth special interests.
The problem though is that the municipal identification card is a political agenda and the unauthorized immigrants are pawns in the process. I realize that I wrote that a municipal identification card would help resolve many of the issues faced by unauthorized immigrants. However and although I support the City of El Paso issuing municipal identification cards I also believe there is a much simpler way to address the myriad of issues involved. However, they all require one very important distinction – honesty.
I have already shown you how complex the issue of immigration is and it is important to understand that unauthorized immigrants are not all Mexican; however, we can all agree that they account for the vast majority. Because of that fact and because of El Paso’s proximity to the Mexican border I am going to limit the rest of my comments to El Paso and the proposal for the city to issue municipal identification cards. However, I am not ignorant of that fact that the solutions I offer do not include other nationalities.
A Solution to the Problem
Accepting that the largest group of individuals that a city issued municipal identification card is going to help are unauthorized immigrants from Mexico then let’s look to see if a simple mechanism already exists. It does, and it is called the Matricula Consular.
The Matricula Consular is issued by any Mexican consulate in the United States to any Mexican citizen. It is a secure identification card attesting to a Mexican citizen living in the jurisdiction (city) that the card states. The requirements for being issued a Matricula Consular is that the recipient prove their Mexican citizenship and that they provide proof of their address in the jurisdiction. It does not alter their immigration status in any way; it just provides identification with a photograph and the address of the holder. Those of you that will argue that the Mexican government cannot be trusted to issue secure identification cards can stop reading now because you are not looking for solutions, instead, you are looking to deport all Mexicans, so don’t bother continuing to read.
For those of you still with me you should begin to see how this would work. Immediately it resolves two issues, the first being identifying the bearer and the second the cost to the taxpayers of El Paso. Of course, the card has to be accepted as a valid form of identification. Already various banks accept the Matricula Consular as a valid form of identification to open bank accounts.
Anyone who has opened a bank account recently or who understands how the US government tracks terrorist funding understands that this is significant as banks derive their authority from the federal government. The Matricula Consular is accessible to most undocumented immigrants in El Paso; it is a recognized valid form of identification and does not cost the citizens of El Paso any money to issue and manage it.
All city council needs to do is create the public policy that a Matricula Consular is recognized by the municipality as a valid form of identification. Notice that I wrote “valid form of identification” and not proof of legal status. Isn’t this what the municipal identification card purports to do?
A simple directive by the El Paso City Council in the form of public policy immediately forces the police department to treat the card as a valid form of identification for policing purposes. Once the city takes on this initiative then the school districts can be compelled to do the same as well as the county thus making the Matricula Consular a valid form of identification across the county.
What About the US Citizens?
Some of you are thinking, oh that’s good and dandy for the unauthorized immigrants, but what about the constituency that has the right to vote, do they not have a right to a municipal identification card and does the city not have a duty to provide one for them. The proponents of the municipal identification card argued that it was for individuals that do not have access to identification cards but that it had nothing to do with immigration.
First, let’s look at the demographics the proponents used as examples. One of the examples are foster children. The problem with this example is that foster children are already in a government controlled process that must have a mechanism to deal with the identification documents of those in their care. If they do not then the issue needs to be raised with the agencies because it is your tax dollars that fund them.
That leaves us the victims of domestic abuse and the homeless. Both of these issues are important to address and cannot and should not be ignored. However, there is no way thy account for 40,000 potential users.
This simple fact brings us right back to the start that the target demographic are unauthorized immigrants.
If city council truly wants to address this demographic then all it takes is the courage to simply issue public policy authorizing the Matricula Consular as a valid form of identification. It is not perfect yet it is simple and effective and it acknowledges the individuals that live in the shadows.