The Durham City Council voted 5-2 in late November to support its police department’s use of the controversial Mexican matricula consular ID card, a form of identification issued by the Mexican Consulate but rejected as unreliable by 22 of 32 Mexican states.

No banks in Mexico recognize the card, said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation and former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Justice. That’s because the Mexican Consulate does not verify applicants’ identities before issuing a matricula consular ID, Spakovsky said.

Durham Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden, Mayor Bill Bell, and council members Diane Catotti, Michael Woodard, and Farad Ali voted for a resolution authorizing the police department to accept the card as a valid form of ID.

Members Eugene Brown and Howard Clement III voted against the resolution, which states that “the Mexican matricula consular has been shown to be a highly secure form of identification, issued to Mexican citizens living in other countries.”

“That’s just fictional,” Spakovsky said. “I don’t know where in the world they could come up with the idea that they are reliable. They are not issued on a basis that is in anyway reliable.”

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez told council members Nov. 15 that his department has been accepting the Mexican matricula consular ID (also known as the CID) throughout his three-year tenure. Lopez told the council the card will aid investigations, and that his officers use tools to detect fake matricula consular IDs.

“They have something they can put over the card to detect if it’s valid or not,” Brown told Carolina Journal. Approximately 1,200 police departments throughout the country have adopted this form of ID, Brown said.

FBI critical of ID card

Steve McCraw, former assistant director of the FBI’s office of intelligence, testified before Congress in 2003 that the U.S. government had researched the Mexican consular ID program extensively and found no means of verifying the identity of the cardholder, rendering it unreliable and highly susceptible to fraud.

“The government of Mexico issues the card to anyone who can produce a Mexican birth certificate and one other form of identity, including documents of very low reliability,” McCraw testified. “Mexican birth certificates are easy to forge and they are a major item on the product list of the fraudulent document trade currently flourishing across the country and around the world.”

McCraw said the CID can be a breeder document for establishing a false identity. “It is our understanding that as many as 13 states currently accept the matricula consular for the purpose of obtaining a driver’s license,” he said. “Once in possession of a driver’s license, a criminal is well on his way to using the false identity to facilitate a variety of crimes, from money laundering to check fraud. And, of course, the false identity serves to conceal a criminal who is already being sought by law enforcement.”

The National Notary Association pointed out in a March 2009 report that the matricula consular bears a photograph and signature, but no physical description of the bearer, potentially leading to misuse. “In this era of rampant document fraud and identity theft, requirements for establishing identification should be tightened rather than compromised,” said Timothy Reiniger, executive director of the NNA.

There are few measures in place ensuring that an individual presenting a matricula consular ID is who he or she says, or doesn’t have a criminal history.

“I have seen illegals with as many as four of these IDs on their person, each with a different name but with their picture on it,” said Randy Jones of the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department.

“I can see little value in the matricula card for law enforcement,” said Jones, a 37-year veteran law enforcement officer. “The only thing you can be relatively comfortable with when in contact with someone using one is that they are not a U.S. citizen.”

According to the Durham resolution, the matricula consular ID would “assist the Durham Police Department in minimizing unnecessary and potentially life-changing arrests of hard-working residents guilty of no more than a minor traffic infraction.”

Looking the other way

Brown conceded that the council’s resolution is a “wink and a nod,” encouraging police to ignore illegal immigration. Police “could spend all their time, quite literally, on enforcing immigration,” he said. “What about all the other crimes? It’s not their responsibility.”

But law enforcement officers take oaths to enforce the laws of this state; that they will not be influenced in any matter on account of personal bias or prejudice; and to support and maintain the constitution and laws of the United States, according to the North Carolina Training and Standards division.

“I think any law enforcement officer who relied on those is not doing their duty,” Spakovsky said.

Watering down 287(g)?

Critics of the matricula consular ID say such measures undermine the federal 287(g) immigration enforcement program. Under 287(g), Immigrations and Customs Enforcement provides state and local law enforcement with the training and subsequent authorization to identify, process, and when appropriate, detain immigration offenders they encounter during their regular, daily law-enforcement activity. According to an April 2009 Heritage Foundation report, 29 jurisdictions across the U.S. participate in 287(g). Including Alamance County, six N.C. law enforcement agencies participate in 287(g), Jones says.

As of January 1, all 100 counties will participate in Secure Communities. Under that federal program, the fingerprints of anyone arrested and booked will be checked against both FBI criminal history records and Department of Homeland Security immigration records. If fingerprints match DHS records, ICE will determine if immigration enforcement action is required, considering the immigration status of the alien, the severity of the crime, and the alien’s criminal history.

Brown believes the controversy surrounding the matricula consular ID is part of a larger problem. “It’s an outright symbol of the failed policies of the U.S. Congress to deal with immigration. It’s almost like the issue is too hot for anyone to deal with it.”

Kristy Bailey is a contributor to Carolina Journal.