Identification cards issued by Mexico, already accepted by Los Angeles and 14 other local governments in California, would have to be honored by all cities and counties under a bill that cleared the Assembly on Monday.
Proponents say widespread acceptance of the cards would make it easier for Mexican citizens living in California to open bank accounts, get marriage licenses, use libraries and respond to routine traffic stops by police.
“This bill will benefit thousands of Mexican nationals,” said Assemblyman Manny Diaz (D-San Jose), author of AB 522.
The bill passed 53 to 7, and goes next to the Senate Public Safety Committee. Only Republicans voted against it, but six Republicans joined Democrats in endorsing the bill.
Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy (R-Monrovia) urged a no vote, calling the bill “another way of giving amnesty to illegal aliens in California.”
But Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia (R-Cathedral City) said: “It doesn’t matter how they got here.”
Identification cards, she said, will help police figure out who they have stopped, spare people from having to use check-cashing companies and grant a measure of dignity to people who otherwise live in society’s shadows.
Those who would benefit most from the bill cannot vote today, Garcia told her colleagues, but “in the future they’re going to remember whether you let them live with dignity.”
The cards, called the matricula consular, are issued by the 10 Mexican consulates in California. Each displays the possessor’s name, photo, address and date of birth.
To obtain such a card, the applicant must pay a fee and produce an original birth certificate and proof of residence in the United States.
In California, the cards are accepted by nine banks, more than 80 police departments, 27 sheriff’s departments and three state agencies. A card does not change a person’s immigration status or allow the possessor to apply for government benefits, such as welfare.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, based in Marina del Rey, said wider acceptance of the cards would undermine federal immigration laws.
“The state of California should not be in the business of assisting people to live in the United States illegally,” he said.
Legal residents can get a California driver’s license or some other form of identification, while visitors should have passports.
“About the most certain thing you can say about these cards is that the person holding one is in the country illegally,” Mehlman said.
Jeannette Zanipatan, a statewide policy analyst for the California Immigrant Welfare Collaborative, said the cards are used by illegal residents, but also by legal residents who want a second form of identification.
She said she considered the cards a public safety issue because they make people more comfortable about reaching out to law enforcement and save the time and resources of police trying to identify people.
“Since 9/11, many immigrant communities feel they are a lot more vulnerable,” Zanipatan said, “and this is one more thing we can do to allow them to feel they can come forward and speak to law enforcement.”