In dealing with El Paso County's burgeoning Latino and immigrant population, language barriers aren't the only problem for local law-enforcement officers.
Many immigrants -- especially those who are here illegally -- also lack proper identification documents. As a result, they are usually loath to report crimes or come forward as witnesses to crimes, fearful that they may get arrested or deported.
For police, meanwhile, it is often time-consuming to establish the identity of a person with whom they are interacting -- during a traffic stop or a crime investigation, for example -- if that person doesn't have proper ID.
Recently, the Colorado Springs City Council decided to make life a little easier for both police and many immigrants. On July 23, the council unanimously directed the city's police department to begin officially recognizing an identification card issued by the Mexican government called matricula consular.
"From our perspective, there's no downside to it," said Colorado Springs Police spokesman Lt. Skip Arms.
The card, issued locally by the Mexican General Consulate in Denver, is available to all Mexican nationals who have lived in the United States for at least six months. Consulate staff don't ask whether someone applying for a card is here legally or not, says Mario Hernandez, a spokesman for the consulate.
The Mexican government has issued the matricula consular for many years but recently added new "invisible" security features to make the card more forgery-proof, Hernandez says.
In order to get a card, an applicant must have an official Mexican birth certificate as well as a Mexican photo ID.
"It is very fraud-proof," Hernandez said.
The consulate has recently been asking law-enforcement agencies and local governments around the state to officially recognize the matricula consular. While many law-enforcement agencies have informally accepted the card for some time, Colorado Springs is the first jurisdiction in Colorado to adopt a resolution officially recognizing it.
Police Chief Luis Velez agreed to introduce the city council resolution at the consulate's request. Police spokesman Arms says law enforcement like the idea of being better able to identify people with whom they interact.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office already has an unofficial policy of accepting the card, said Commander Ken Morris of the office's Patrol Division. When someone has the card, "at least you know, or have a reasonable belief, who you're talking to," Morris said.
When dealing with minor offenses, such as traffic tickets, police and sheriff's deputies usually don't ask offenders whether they are in the country legally or not, because it is not within their jurisdiction to enforce federal immigration laws.
The move to recognize the matricula consular comes in the wake of a failed push last winter to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain Colorado driver's licenses. El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson was among those supporting the proposal, arguing that denying illegal immigrants licenses would simply lead to many of them driving without proper driver training and without insurance.
However, a committee of the state Legislature killed the proposal in February, on a 4-3 vote.
Hernandez says he doesn't know how many of the matricula consular cards have been issued in Colorado. But he said the cards have grown in popularity, "especially after September 11."
With the U.S. government rounding up and detaining many immigrants as part of its campaign against terrorism, many Mexicans have been eager to obtain some sort of identification to protect themselves, Hernandez says.
-- Terje Langeland