Sunday, June 13, 2004 | 06/13/2004 | License-bill talks have sticking points | 06/13/2004 | License-bill talks have sticking points

Posted on Sun, Jun. 13, 2004

License-bill talks have sticking points

By Aurelio Rojas


SACRAMENTO - The reliability of an identification card issued by Mexican consulates has emerged as a sticking point in negotiations between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and backers of a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses.

SB1160 by state Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, would require illegal immigrants applying for licenses to present a valid passport or ID card issued by their native country.

Passports are a universally accepted form of identification, but critics of the Mexican card known as "matricula consular" contend it is susceptible to fraud.

Mexicans are a large majority of the estimated 2 million unlicensed drivers in California who would be eligible under the proposed law.

"The administration is primarily concerned about the matriculas," Cedillo said.

Unless all his security concerns are satisfied, the governor has suggested placing a mark on licenses that would identify holders as illegal immigrants.

That proposal has been dismissed as a scarlet letter by Latino legislators, threatening to derail the sensitive talks if Schwarzenegger is not assured about the credibility of underlying documents.

Aides to the senator and the governor, including Ron Iden, director of the state Office of Homeland Security, and Department of Motor Vehicle fraud investigators recently attended a 2 1/2-hour presentation on the card at the Mexican consulate in Sacramento.

Iden was not available for comment, and administration officials declined to publicly discuss their security concerns in detail.

But Margita Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Republican governor, confirmed the Mexican card "is one of the documents we are looking at to determine the level of information that goes into securing" its authenticity.

Alejandra Bologna, Mexico's general consul in Sacramento, said applicants must present proof of identity to obtain a consular card. Any of the following documents are accepted: a valid Mexican passport, birth certificate or another widely used certificate of Mexican nationality.

The requirements are nearly as stringent as those needed to obtain a Mexican passport, except that applicants are not fingerprinted, Bologna said.

The consular card contains 12 security features -- five invisible to the naked eye -- and is recognized by 200 sheriff's and police departments in California, including those in Sacramento.

"We know that a lot of Mexicans could benefit from driver's licenses, but it's California's decision," Bologna said.

Schwarzenegger has expressed fear that terrorists using fraudulent documents could obtain a California driver's license, which they could use to board airlines or open bank accounts to launder money to fund attacks.

But Cedillo maintains the administration's concerns about the Mexican consular card are unfounded. He cites its acceptance as valid forms of ID by many domestic airlines and banks.

The federal Transportation Security Administration, which sets airline security requirements, accepts "government-issued identification," including the Mexican card, TSA spokeswoman Andrea Fuentes said.

Mariam Galacia Duarte, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo Bank, said the bank is among 150 financial institutions in the nation that accepts the Mexican card to open new accounts.

But the FBI, U.S. Justice Department, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge have raised concerns the card could be obtained fraudulently by terrorists.

Under the license bill, applicants would also have to produce a birth certificate, proof of California address, another official form of ID and other supporting information.

Their fingerprints would be scanned as part of a criminal background check, and anyone with a conviction would be ineligible.

Illegal immigrants from Iraq, Cuba, Libya, North Korea and other countries considered to be sponsors of terrorism would not be allowed to procure licenses.

Applicants would also have to pay fees totaling $146, a portion of which would help subsidize citizenship classes for illegal immigrants.

A law with far fewer safeguards was signed last year by Gov. Gray Davis. After he was recalled, the law was repealed by the Legislature under pressure from Schwarzenegger.

The governor agreed to consider a bill that addressed his security concerns, a requirement supporters maintain they have met.

Proponents say granting driver's licenses would make roads safer by allowing illegal immigrants to qualify for state proficiency testing and to purchase insurance.

Critics of SB1160 argue illegal residents do not deserve the right to drive because they are breaking the law by being in the country illegally.

They also warn that driver's licenses potentially could be used by terrorists to rent vehicles and buy materials for an attack.

SB1160 is moving through the Democratic-controlled Legislature, where the Senate Transportation Committee is scheduled to consider it Tuesday.

Cedillo has vowed the measure will be sent to Schwarzenegger, probably sometime after mid-August, setting up a possible veto.

The senator and other Latino Caucus members say the governor's handling of the matter might determine if they can trust him to keep his word.

But Thompson said the senator is glossing over security concerns presented to him by the governor during a recent meeting.

Some supporters of the bill suggest politics might be playing a larger role. Members of the governor's party overwhelmingly oppose the proposed law.

But Thompson said Schwarzenegger's security concerns are legitimate.

"When you have a government document, you have to have a certain level of confidence in the document," she said.


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