ARLINGTON, Va. – If opponents get their way the so-called matricula consular, an ID card which supporters credit with helping tens of thousands of undocumented foreign nationals obtain credit union memberships, will no longer be considered acceptable for opening depository accounts. Along largely partisan lines, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 226 to 123 to approve an amendment to a foreign relations related bill that would impose strict record keeping and reporting requirements on any foreign government that wanted to issue the cards. Credit union and card advocates agree the net result of any such amendment would be to severely reduce the availability of the card to the undocumented people who most need it for access to depository and other financial services. Opponents have also forced the U.S. Treasury Department to re-open a comment period on regulations, related to the U.S.A. Patriot Act, governing the acceptance of the card for opening depository accounts. The regulations had been issued in final form but the Department reopened them for a month after pressure from U.S. representatives. While it is unclear when the House might pass the bill that contains the amendment, or whether a similar amendment in the Senate would pass, card supporters point to the approval of the amendment and the re-opening of the comment period as the beginnings of a lengthy battle over the use of the card. “We take this very seriously, as a matter of life and death for people in our field of membership” said Randy Chambers, treasurer of the $13 million Latino Community Credit Union, based in Durham, North Carolina. “In our state alone, as recently as last year, there were people killed in robberies because the robbers perceived that Hispanic residents on some days of the month would have a lot of cash on them.” Latino Community, a state-chartered institution with 14,000 members and four branches across the state has won awards for, among other things, rapidly expanding its membership and services among the growing number of Hispanic North Carolina residents. Chambers reported that his institution does not rely on the matricula consulars, which are usually issued by a foreign embassy or consulate, for all of its new membership accounts, but he confirmed they do so a significant part of the time. “It’s not the only thing we use,” he reiterated, but it is a form of ID that has become steadily more accepted.” Latino Community is not alone. According to David Grace, manager of legislative and regulatory affairs for the World Council of Credit Unions, as of the end of 2002, 15,000 credit union memberships across the country had been obtained using the matricula and he estimated that the number now would be significantly higher, though he admitted he had no ready data to support an estimate. Nationwide, matricula supporters report that over a dozen states accept the matriculas and more than a million have been issued nationwide, the overwhelming majority by the Mexican government. The Case Against The Card It is precisely the use of the card to open credit union and bank accounts and its growing acceptance as a form of identification that has spurred opponents into activity against it. Accepting the card, the opponents assert, is not merely a matter of undermining U.S. immigration policy, it is a matter of violating the law. “Banks and credit unions that accept the so-called matricula consular as proof of identity are aiding and abetting lawbreakers and should be prosecuted, it’s as simple as that,” said David Ray, spokesman for the Federation For American Immigration Reform, an anti-immigration group based in Washington D.C. which has taken a lead in opposing the increasing use of the card. Ray argued that U.S. immigration policy in recent years has presupposed that people here illegally would find it harder, not easier, to establish themselves in society. Using an identification issued by a foreign government specifically for identification in the U.S., for people who are here working and living illegally, undercuts the whole purpose of having an immigration policy. “You might as well not have an immigration policy,” he asserted. He also criticized the matricula for being a document that has been entirely too easy for undocumented foreign nationals to obtain. “There have been media reports about people arrested with as many as seven matriculas in different names,” he charged. He also called “most worrying” the phenomena of nationals from other nations, particularly in the Middle East, getting matriculas. “We know already that one of the key things terrorist cells need to do is to move money around. We believe that opening depository accounts with matriculas makes that easier.” But Chambers countered Ray’s assertions by noting that credit unions were not authorized to determine the citizenship of their members but to serve people in their field of membership. “We are not an arm of the immigration service,” Chambers argued. “The bottom line is that whether documented or not the people in our field of membership are here and we are called to treat them and serve them as human beings,” he said. Chambers also challenged Ray’s assertion that matriculas were easy to get. “You can’t just show up at the Mexican consulate with a typewritten birth certificate,” he said. “You have to have a birth certificate with other ID from some other Mexican institution, like a military card, with your picture on it,” he said [see sidebar]. He also cast the argument in national security terms. “From our point of view we rely on the matriculas because we want to know our customers,” Chambers said. “The last thing we or any credit union wants to do is be used as any sort of front for money laundering or anything else improper,” he added. Credit Unions Going To Bat For the Card While the debate over matriculas appears to have begun in earnest, there is little doubt whose side credit unions appear to take. In addition to Hispanic credit unions, like Latino Community, the Texas Credit Union League (see related story page 8) has weighed in favor of the card in comments to the U.S. Treasury Department and CUNA executives have said the association will back the cards. “We understand that there’s a campaign underway-or that there seems to be a campaign underway, since we can’t conclusively say so-regarding the use of the matricula,” said Mary Dunn, associate general counsel for CUNA. “There does seem to be at least a letter writing campaign to persuade Treasury to drop language in the final rule under Section 326, the account opening requirements, that would allow the use of matricula.We are going to continue our support for the use of the matricula. It’s very important for a number of credit unions,” she added. [email protected]

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