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Column 083004 Thompson

Monday, August 30, 2004


Mexico could show California the way with driver’s licenses


By Barnard R. Thompson


With the push-pull in earning disparities between Latin America and the U.S., and the special magnetic attraction of California to blue-collar and drudge workers in light of labor supply and demand in many sectors of the state — to say nothing of roadway law, order, safety and insurance, there is an argument for the issuance of driver’s licenses to immigrants.  Yet in today’s world, with heightened concerns due to terrorism, drug crimes and far too many other offenses, circumstances dictate that there must be cooperative controls and proper vigilance.


This includes the intrinsic need for accurate identification of all migrants moving between Mexico and the U.S.A., plus there can be no question of doubt in the identity of citizens, legal residents, visitors or illegal migrants in each sovereign nation.


The California legislature, on August 27, narrowly approved a bill that would allow an estimated 2 million illegal immigrants to obtain state driver’s licenses.  This after failing to come to a compromise agreement with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who due to security concerns wants due diligence background checks and proper identification on any and all applicants for licenses in California.


Schwarzenegger also says that any such licenses issued to non-citizens in California should have a special identifying mark, to distinguish them from state citizen licenses and identification cards.  By extension, this separation is also needed in order to distinguish citizens from the unauthorized on lists such as those used for voter registration and jury duty.


The governor is expected to veto the legislation that otherwise will go into effect on January 1, 2005.


California senator Gil Cedillo, the chief proponent of the driver’s license to illegal immigrants initiative, argues however that all of the governor’s concerns have been met and the bill should be promulgated.  According to Cedillo “it is the safest document in America.”


Cedillo also objects to “discriminatory marks” on licenses.  In an August 25 interview published in The San Diego Union-Tribune, he was quoted as follows: “A mark would be a scarlet letter that would invite discrimination, much like the Star of David on Jewish people in Nazi Germany.”


The Union-Tribune piece continued: “Cedillo was still unsure whether to drop the matricula — a card issued by the Mexican consulate — as an acceptable form of identification in the license process.  Schwarzenegger had expressed concerns over forged matriculas.”


Mexico’s Matrícula Consular, or Consular Registration Certificate, is a credential issued to Mexican nationals at consulates abroad.  The ID card is easy to obtain in the U.S., with applicants needing to simply verify their Mexican nationality with a passport, birth certificate, certificate of nationality, letter of naturalization or “a declaration of Mexican nationality by birth.”  Some type of photo ID is also required, plus applicants must certify that they live within a particular consular district.  This and the equivalent of $290 Mexican pesos gets one a Matrícula Consular, and the undocumented are instantly documented.


In comparison to that which is taking place north of the border, it would appear that Mexican lawmakers may have a better sense of their sovereign responsibility to protect national security and police the nation than some of their U.S. counterparts.


Driver’s licenses in Mexico are issued by the 31 states and the Federal District, with laws regulating identity requirements for those applying in each state being strict.


Typical are the regulations of Baja California, the contiguous state with California.  In order to obtain a regular Baja California driver’s license the applicant must know how to read and write, be over the age of 18 (“student licenses” are available for those over 16), and they must show an official photo and signed ID.  Those forms of identification accepted include a Mexican passport, a federal or state voter’s ID or military identification.


Furthermore, applicants must demonstrate proof of residency through electricity, water, telephone and property tax bills that are less than one month old.  They must also have a health certificate no less than one month old.  And of course they must pass the requisite written and driving tests.


Foreign nationals applying for a Baja California driver’s license must comply with the applicable points mentioned above, plus as with most states in Mexico they must “duly prove their legal presence in the country.”


In the Federal District, that often serves as a prototype for regulations elsewhere in Mexico, the driver’s license code section concludes: “With respect to foreigners, they will also have to verify their legal presence in the country by showing the immigration document issued by the authorized authority.”