Law enforcement accepts Mexican ID
In a move celebrated by immigration organizations, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office announced Sunday that it would accept Mexican consular cards, also known as Matrícula cards, as a valid form of identification.
The change in policy will keep hundreds of undocumented immigrants, whose only crime is not having verifiable identification, out of jail. It will also allow undocumented victims to report crimes more easily.
“We’re really happy that it has come to this point,” said Omar Gallardo, president of the North Bay Organization Project, which pushed for the change in policy. “The county law enforcement has worked with us and supported us, and even went down to San Francisco to the consulate to learn more about these cards.”
Kara Reyes, director of family services at La Luz Center in Sonoma, said she sees the biggest benefit to crime victims. She has heard numerous cases of undocumented immigrants refusing to report crimes because they fear not having the proper identification.
“We see a lot of people wanting to report crimes who won’t … Even when they do file for a restraining order, they can’t get a copy of the order because (the court) didn’t accept the Matrícula cards,” she said. “We’re very pleased to hear this news.”
Chief Bret Sackett of the Sonoma Police Department, which contracts with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, said previous policy was to book any person police made contact with whose identification could not be verified at the scene. There was a high rate of fraud associated with the consular cards and, because local law enforcement had not been trained to differentiate between the real and the counterfeit cards, consular cards were not an acceptable form of identification.
“Therefore (consular card holders) were being booked at a higher rate than some other populations,” Sackett said, although he added he did not know how frequently it happens in Sonoma.
Upon being booked in the county jail, each person’s fingerprints are sent to the FBI, which checks the person’s criminal history. If the person has previously been determined to be an undocumented immigrant, the federal Secure Communities program requires the FBI to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“They call it a hit,” Gallardo said. “Automatically, ICE would be notified and a detainer would be put on that person.”
ICE requires the jail to hold the person until it can send an agent out for an interview.
“Following the interview, ICE decides whether to seek the person’s removal,” the ICE website states. “In making these decisions, ICE considers a number of factors, including the person’s criminal history, immigration history (such as whether the person was previously deported or has an outstanding removal order from an immigration judge), family ties, duration of stay in the U.S., significant medical issues and other circumstances. In many instances involving lower-level criminals or people who are not convicts, re-entrants or fugitives, ICE offers the person the option of voluntary return. A voluntary return allows the person to enter the U.S. lawfully in the future.”
Reyes said La Luz has seen cases where people are deported even when they did not commit a crime. “We had a client last year who was pulled over at a checkpoint on her way home from work. She had no acceptable form of ID and therefore was booked into county (jail) and deported by ICE after two months in detention. She left her husband and children behind. This same story happens across America daily,” she said.
Sackett explained that officers often have to make judgment calls about whether to cite a person in the field or book them into jail. Under a federal mandate to reduce over-crowding in prisons, many jurisdictions are moving felons from state penitentiaries into county jails. Sackett said law enforcement officers are encouraged to write citations for minor offenses such as traffic violations “so we can keep spots in jail available for the prisoners.”
By accepting the consular cards as a valid form of identification, officers can cite and release card-holders for minor offenses instead of booking them into jail. “I can issue a citation only if I can verify who you are,” Sackett said, explaining that the deputies are now trained on the security features of the consular cards. “They can verify right away if the card is legitimate.”
Sackett was one of dozens of local law enforcement officers who were invited to the Consulate General of Mexico in San Francisco to better understand the security features of the card. Sackett explained that the consulate requires a passport or valid Mexican driver’s license, fingerprints and a photo to issue the card, which is exclusively for Mexican nationals living abroad. The cards have been designed to prevent counterfeiting.
“Those cards are made on a special machine that puts in security features much like our driver’s licenses …” he said, adding that the cards do not allow driving privileges. “All it does is provide a valid form of identification.”
Reyes said representatives from the Mexican consulate were on site several weeks ago to print consular cards for anyone who could provide the documentation necessary to acquire the cards. More than 400 Sonoma Valley residents were issued cards.
“We’re really glad to know that those cards will be accepted,” she said, adding that the cards are already accepted by the Internal Revenue Services for filling taxes and the City of Sonoma recognizes the ID when residents conduct business with the city.