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Matricula Melee

Group threatens fight over Mexican ID cards



Local law-enforcement officials say the matricula consular, an identity card issued by Mexican consulates in the United States, helps police interact with the large and growing number of immigrants who live and work in the community.

But a Nebraska-based organization claims the City of Colorado Springs and El Paso County are violating federal law and the U.S. Constitution by accepting the card -- which is issued to Mexican nationals regardless of whether they are in the United States legally or not -- as official identification.

Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement (FILE), a newly formed advocacy group based in Omaha, Neb., recently wrote letters to the City and County as well as numerous other municipalities throughout Colorado, demanding that they stop accepting the card.

So far, the letter has been met with a collective shrug from local officials, who say they have no plans to respond.

"There really isn't a need for it," said county attorney Mike Lucas.

Still, the controversy over the ID card could escalate. FILE is hoping to ultimately argue its point of view in court, and in the meantime, the group is looking for state legislators willing to take up its cause by introducing laws that would bar local governments from accepting the card.

Police like them

The Mexican government has issued the matricula to its citizens abroad for years but recently added new features to make it more forgery-proof. Since then, many law-enforcement agencies have begun accepting the card as a form of identification.

In July, Colorado Springs became the first city in Colorado to officially recognize the ID cards, at the urging of Police Chief Luis Velez. El Paso County sheriff's deputies accept the cards on an informal basis.

Eric Popkin, a Colorado College sociology professor who works with local immigrants through the organization Latinos Unidos, says the matricula has been wildly popular in Colorado Springs. When staff from the Mexican Consulate in Denver came here to issue cards a few months ago, close to 400 Mexicans showed up, Popkin says.

Police say accepting the card assists them in fighting crime, because illegal immigrants who lack ID are usually loath to report crimes or come forward as witnesses to crimes, fearful that they might get arrested and deported.

But Craig Nelsen, the director of FILE, says police have a responsibility to fight another crime: illegal immigration. By accepting the matricula, police are turning a blind eye to that problem, because almost everyone who has such a card is likely an illegal alien, Nelsen argues. He points out that legal immigrants have access to U.S. identification documents.

"Stealth amnesty"

Nelsen claims the growing acceptance of the card amounts to a "stealth amnesty" for illegal immigrants, and that local governments are in effect setting immigration policy, which is the constitutional prerogative of the federal government. Eventually, Nelsen's group hopes to file a lawsuit challenging the acceptance of the card, he says.

"We're going to make a concerted effort to stop this practice," Nelsen promised.

Though he declined to identify them, Nelsen also says he's speaking with Colorado legislators about proposing a ban against accepting the matricula.

Velez, the Colorado Springs police chief, says that contrary to Nelsen's claim, enforcing immigration policy is up to the federal government, not local police. "We've got a whole lot more important things to do than ask people to see their papers."

If local cops turned into immigration police, it would make it impossible to investigate other crimes in neighborhoods where illegal immigrants live, because no one in those neighborhoods would cooperate, Velez argues.

The police department plans no action in response to FILE's letter, he says.

"Their professed views are way off-base," Velez said of the group.

-- Terje Langeland

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