[author: Courtney Sherwood]
Oregon police are preparing to accept Mexican-issued cards as legitimate photo ID, now that tighter laws have spurred the state to reject an estimated 1,000 drivers license applications per month.
The move, announced by Governor John Kitzhaber in a letter he wrote to human rights activists on May 1, will give Mexican migrants who are not legally in the country a way to prove their identities now that the state has stopped issuing drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. Advocates for these immigrants hailed the move as a step in the right direction, though many said it does not go far enough.
Photo identification for people who cannot prove legal U.S. residency has been a growing issue across the country in recent years, thanks to the REAL ID Act, which required states to restrict drivers licenses to legal U.S. residents. Though leaders in many states have raised objections to aspects of the law, only Washington state, New Mexico and Utah still grant driving privileges to people who cannot prove legal residency in the U.S. And the card Utah issues to undocumented immigrants does not count as a valid form of government identification.
As a result, the Matricula Consular card is becoming increasingly important to undocumented Mexican immigrants, said Gregory Siskind, founder of Siskind Susser, one of the largest immigration law firms in North America.
This card, issued by Mexican embassies and consulates to Mexican citizens residing outside their home country, is cheaper and easier to obtain than a passport but still carries the weight of official identification. As the U.S. has tightened restrictions on drivers licenses, the Matricula Consular has become the next-best option for thousands of immigrants seeking to open bank accounts, set up electric utility service and otherwise establish their identities.
Still, immigrants and employers alike need to understand that the card is not a free pass, Siskind said.
He once represented an employer that had accepted Matricula Consular cards as valid identification when hiring workers. That was a mistake, Siskind said.
“A passport, in combination with work authorization documents, would work, but the Matricula card is not acceptable,” he said.
Likewise, a Matricula Consular card is not the same as a driver’s license, so people pulled over with one can still face “driving without a license” citations. And the card is not proof of legal status in the U.S.
Oregon’s Governor Kitzhaber acknowledged the shortcomings of the Matricula Consular card, and said he hopes the state eventually adopts a law allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. Last year the state considered adopting a driving card similar to Utah’s, but did not vote on the proposal.
If you’re an immigrant and are unsure whether your photo ID meets official state and federal requirements, a local immigration attorney can help you understand your situation.