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WASHINGTON – Credit union lobbyists were surprised July 15 when an unexpected amendment to an appropriations bill threatened to derail an important element of credit unions’ outreach to Hispanic communities that they had thought secure. At risk is credit unions’ ability to accept the so-called matricula consulars. The matricula consular is identification issued by the Mexican government that allows its undocumented nationals living in the U.S. to open credit union and bank accounts. As of the beginning of 2003 over 350 credit unions and banks across the country, particularly those in areas with large numbers of Hispanic immigrants, accepted the cards. “The matricula consular is certainly not the only sort of identification that we accept, but it is a key form for those new members who need it the most,” explained Randy Chambers, Treasurer for the $15 million Latino Community Credit Union, headquartered in Durham, North Carolina. Chambers explained that, contrary to its opponent’s assertions, the matricula actually helped the credit union better know its members and maintain financial security. He pointed out that having a bank account actually helped keep track of money that would otherwise be part of the cash-only economy and untraceable. He also explained that immigrants having a bank account helped reduce crime in primarily immigrant areas by reducing the numbers of people walking around with large amounts of cash on paydays. Representative John Culberson (R-Texas) sponsored the amendment which would prevent the U.S. Treasury Department from using any money on enforcing its matricula regulations. The net effect of this move would be to prevent banks and credit unions from accepting the card for identification purposes. “My amendment is aimed to protect our national security by stopping the use of this totally unreliable form of identification because it can be used by criminals to obtain driver’s licenses, bank accounts, and other services,” he said. Brenda Muniz, a policy analyst at the National Council of La Raza, one of the nation’s largest Hispanic organizations, said she had not been surprised that the amendment had been offered, but was a little surprised it passed 9-7, even in a subcommittee which is known for being politically conservative. “I think there might have been a lot of things that helped the amendment pass,” Muniz said. “It might have been awkward for [Republican] members to have gone against Chairman [Earnest] Istook (R-Ok),” she added. Muniz said that while available data on the acceptance of the matricula lagged, at least 32 states across the U.S. recognized the matricula for at least some uses as of the beginning of 2003. The type and degree of recognition varied from state to state, she explained, but few people realize that over 1,200 police departments across the country recognize the matricula for means of identification. “I think it’s important to point out that these law enforcement agencies will accept the matricula,” she said. While matricula supporters were surprised by the measure’s passage, they are also reasonably confident that they will be able to defeat it during the legislative process. Opportunities to strip the amendment out of the appropriations bill will come at the committee level and then again in the full House and in the House and Senate conference committee. But matricula backers hope the measure will not get that far. Muniz and Chambers said that matricula supporters had begun to organize to oppose the amendment and Gary Kohn, vice- president of legislative affairs for CUNA, said the association had begun to call on its grass roots efforts for a push in the Appropriations committee. “We have been in contact with supporters who have members on the Appropriations committee to indicate our opposition,” said CUNA vice-president Gary Kohn. “We are optimistic we should be able to see results in the committee.” -

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