A sometimes-controversial form of identification for Hispanic immigrants might soon gain formal recognition from the city of Cincinnati.
Matricula consular IDs, issued by foreign governments, enable undocumented workers in the United States to open bank accounts, access public utilities, board airplanes and engage in other activities that require people to prove their identity. Driver licenses and other forms of identification are often unavailable to Hispanic immigrants who lack social security numbers.
City Councilman David Pepper has proposed an ordinance that would recognize matricula consular IDs issued by the Mexican and Guatemalan governments as valid forms of identification for any business conducted in the city of Cincinnati.
"There is an energy growing in the Hispanic community in Cincinnati and the best thing we can do as a city is to embrace that energy," Pepper says.
U.S. cities that grew in the 1990s did so as a result of openly welcoming the "new immigration" of Latinos, according to Pepper.
"We have a unique opportunity to embrace diversity in Cincinnati and openly welcome the Hispanic population into our community," he says.
The plan has the backing of the police department, because the acceptance of the IDs would encourage a stronger relationship with the Latino community, Pepper says.
Several banks -- including U.S. Bank, Bank One and PNC -- have already begun accepting the matricula consular IDs to open accounts. The importance of access to the banking industry for Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants became clear last summer. A rash of violence struck the Cincinnati Latino community as it became known that Hispanic workers sometimes carried large amounts of money on their person.
In addition to personal security, access to bank accounts cuts the expense of wiring money to family members in foreign countries.
The matricula consular issue came to Pepper's attention through the efforts of the Latino advocacy group Su Casa Hispanic Ministries, an education and advocacy agency affiliated with the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Recognizing the matricula consular IDs would benefit the city as a whole, according to Michael Flynn, director of Su Casa.
"The Latino population is growing significantly and there are two ways Cincinnati can go," he says. "We can realize that a common future exists and work to embrace that future, or we can keep Latinos in a position of marginalization and exclusion."
Latinos are the city's fastest-growing ethnic group. The 2000 U.S. Census counted 12,879 Hispanic residents in the metropolitan area, including 4,230 in Cincinnati. But the census is widely believed to miss many undocumented workers.
San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Cleveland and Toledo have passed laws recognizing the matricula consular IDs. Supporters say the cards increase immigrants' willingness to report crime and otherwise assist police, instead of fearing they risk deportation for having no identification.
But the cards have attracted opposition from groups concerned about illegal immigration and from critics who say the cards could help terrorists and money launderers. The state of Colorado recently enacted legislation to ban the use of matricula consular IDs as legal identification.
Those concerns are uninformed, Flynn says. He contends universal acceptance of matricula consular IDs will help immigrants adjust to their new surroundings without compromising federal immigration laws.
"Having a matricula consular card does not alter or improve your immigration status with the (Immigration and Naturalization Service) or help you get a job," he says. "It is simply a convenient means of proving your identification, so it is not necessary to carry a visa or passport."
Pepper says he's comfortable with their issuance and security processes used by Mexican and Guatemalan consulates in the United States.
Rudy Perez, a Guatemalan immigrant who has worked in Greater Cincinnati for the past two years, is waiting for his card to arrive from the Guatemalan Consulate in Chicago.
"My friend and I applied for our cards at the same time," he says. "He got his a couple of weeks ago and I am still waiting for mine."
Perez says he looks forward to establishing an account with the phone company and setting up a bank account when his matricula consular ID arrives.
Flynn says there is a strong desire among the Latino community to fully participate in the community.
"We're not here running drugs," he says. "We're not planning bombing schemes. We're willing to participate as much as you will let us." ©