Point of View

Outlawing IDs not the answer

April 1, 2013 

It seems businesses and governments require photo IDs a lot these days. Schools need them to enroll their students, hospitals need them to see who is visiting patients, law enforcement has to identify suspects and witnesses, banks want them when they open an account for someone.

Some people who live in North Carolina can’t get a state-issued card. If they are foreigners, they can get IDs issued by their governments, just like Americans get them from ours as the country best positioned to confirm the facts regarding a person’s citizenship, age, complete name and address. For Mexican citizens living in the United States, regional consular offices process and issue consular identification cards. Also known as the “Matricula Consular,” it does not confer immigration status or eligibility for any U.S. benefits or privileges. It is a path to nothing more than clarity.

Now, in a needless move that has already created diplomatic awkwardness in the Tar Heel State, some legislators want North Carolina to outlaw these important forms of identification so that government entities cannot recognize them with the potential effect of discrediting them broadly.

The intent of this mean-spirited proposal is to inflict misery on those who some legislators would wish to “self-deport.” In reality, it will just cost and confound law enforcement efforts, state and local government processes and curtail needed commerce. It will waste government time and money trying to figure out a person’s identity even while that person holds the answer in his wallet.

Yet, like North Carolina’s ID cards, Mexican consular IDs are a very secure document. After the tragedy of 9/11, that government saw the need for reliable identification documents for its citizens residing in foreign countries, particularly in the United States. Unidentified foreigners were clearly a concern at a time of great anxiety.

They sought bids to make the system as secure as any photo identification card can be. A high-tech company in Florida built the system, which has evolved over the years to now be a Teslin card with 13 high-tech security features containing readable coding of up to one megabyte of details about the holder.

Getting a consular ID requires similar proof as an N.C. ID, A Mexican citizen must meet with the consular office located in the region where they live and 1) provide a Mexican birth certificate, passport or certificate of nationality, 2) possess an official government photo ID, 3) establish proof of residency and 4) have a personal consular interview. The Mexican government checks its national voter card data base as well as all consular databases. A stop/hold order is issued if there are questions or similar sounding names. The ID is good for five years and available to both documented and undocumented Mexican citizens.

That is the rub ... the undocumented thing. In an effort to make it harder for that population, proponents would cause confusion to lots of North Carolina residents, who need to do their job and have an answer to the common question “May I see an ID please?”

If this bill is passed, schools may be at a loss to verify a parent’s identity just to enroll a child in school.

Law enforcement officers may have difficulty identifying victims of crime even though the answer is within sight, and magistrates will not be able to let people out on bond. And it’s the taxpayers who will pay the bills – for school staffing and to keep people in jail until trial, because their proof of identification is no longer valid.

This is not about thoughtful, useful or necessary policy. It’s not about security, and it’s certainly not going to lead to “self-deportation.” In a modern global economy that demands the best use of time and resources we cannot afford the price of small provincial notions of running folks out of town.

Jessica Rocha, a former N&O reporter, works at the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project at the N.C. Justice Center.

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