At the request of the Mexican consul representing the Inland Empire, the Riverside City Council on Tuesday postponed a hearing on whether to recognize the Mexican identification cards known as matricula consular as proof of identity.
Consul Carlos I. Giralt-Cabrales asked for the delay so he could meet with Riverside Police Department officials, who oppose the measure.
"I see it as a great benefit to both the city and the consulate's office that I meet and confer with the city's chief of police in order to discuss the many advantages the matricula consular will provide for Riverside," Giralt-Cabrales wrote in a letter to the City Council.
"It is imperative that all parties clearly understand the purposes of the matricula consular and take the proper steps in developing successful public policy," Giralt-Cabrales added.
Deputy Police Chief Andy Pytlak said Monday that the department opposed accepting the cards because of issues over reliability and security.
"It's difficult to compel law enforcement to accept these cards that may not rise to the level of security that other cards may have," Pytlak said, noting that the Mexican consulate doesn't complete fingerprinting and background checks when issuing the cards.
Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach was on vacation this week, according to his office.
The City Council was scheduled Tuesday night to act upon a proposal to accept the cards as valid ID in Riverside. The cards would allow Mexican citizens living in Riverside to open bank accounts, get business licenses and "establish friendlier rapport with law enforcement," according to a report drafted by the mayor's office.
Mayor Ronald Loveridge said the proposal would probably be back on the City Council's agenda in four or five weeks.
The consul said he wants to assure the Police Department of security measures, such as a hologram, to prevent forgery.
Morever, Giralt-Cabrales said in a phone interview that the "matricula is not intended to provide criminal background checks. It was not designed to fulfill that purpose."
"I want to stress that the matricula consular is an ID," he said.
Loveridge, along with Councilman Frank Schiavone, said they support the cards because they would help immigrants prove their identity.
"I just can't imagine a plausible argument against identifying people in our country, especially in light of 9/11," Schiavone said. "I would be more concerned with people who were reluctant to get the ID cards."
The cards are issued by the consulate to Mexican citizens, whether or not they're legally living in the United States. The consulate in San Bernardino expects to issue 38,000 cards in Riverside and San Bernardino counties this year, Giralt-Cabrales said.
If approved, Riverside would have become the fifth city in the Inland Empire -- along with San Bernardino, Indio, Victorville and Cathedral City -- to recognize the cards. Many more police departments in Riverside and San Bernardino counties do the same because if immigrants have an ID they can be cited for minor traffic violations and released. Also, they might be more likely to report a crime.
Meanwhile, in Sacramento, state lawmakers are considering two bills that address the acceptance of the matricula consular and other foreign identification cards. Already, more than a dozen cities such as Los Angeles and Oxnard allow Mexican immigrants to use their country's identification cards to conduct city business. Besides the Riverside Police Department, another opponent says the acceptance of these cards disregards federal immigration laws and allows illegal immigrants to live comfortably in the country.
"The people who use the card as their primary form of ID are almost exclusively illegal aliens," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Los Angeles office of the Washington D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform. "What we ought to be doing is to discourage people by making it more difficult for people entering here illegally or remaining here."
The $28 matricula consular, however, does not change a person's immigration status or allow the possessor to apply for government benefits, such as welfare. An applicant must produce an original birth certificate, another form of identification and proof of U.S. residency.