ARLINGTON, Va. – The question of whether credit unions and banks can accept the Matricula Consular card as identification for new members to open news accounts appears to remain significantly less settled than supporters would have wished. The Mexican Government issues Matricula Consular cards for Mexican nationals who are living in the U.S. but who are not documented. Other governments issue similar cards for their undocumented nationals in the U.S. as well, but Mexico has issued the largest volume of cards. Critics of banks and credit unions accepting the cards for use as identification in opening accounts have charged that the cards are not reliable means of identification and that they are vulnerable to use by terrorists and criminals. Supporters, including credit unions, have argued that the identification cards allow them to serve their fields of membership with vital services that move immigrants into the financial mainstream. Supporters also maintain that the question has been settled by policy makers and is unlikely to be revisited, but activists who say they are working “in the grassroots” assert that the question is far from settled. Freeman Sawyer, a long time member of the $638 million Altura Credit Union, which used to be known as Riverside County’s Credit Union, was one of about 40 picketers at the credit union’s Riverside headquarters (see related story page 1 to 52). He said that his organization, the Citizens Alliance for A Secure America, was only one of many groups seeking to reverse policy makers mistaken position on the cards. “The credit union says that the practice is not illegal and I will concede that,” Sawyer said, “but it’s also against the law to aid and abet illegal aliens. In our view that is precisely what they are doing.” Sawyer and other critics primarily complain that the Mexican government lacks the technology or will to keep the sorts of vital records that the Matricula cards require and that the cards are extremely easy to forge. “Essentially, we have made it very easy for anyone to enter into this country and start conducting financial business, including even laundering money, here,” Sawyer said. “It’s not just terrorists, its drug smuggling, human smuggling and gangs as well,” he added. Sawyer and other sources said the profile of the Matricula issue has risen along with interest in immigration reform, particularly in the Southwest portion of the U.S. which shares a border with Mexico. Interest has been further fueled, Sawyer and sources agreed, because two radio personalities, John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, have taken on the cards as part of their afternoon radio program on KFI AM 640 radio in Los Angeles. Sawyer and others said the radio personalities, neither of whom have any links to Mexico, have managed to illegally get Matricula cards with their pictures which looked just like the real thing. A call to the radio station could not verify the reports, but the radio station’s Web site did confirm that the pair will lead a delegation of “angry citizens” to Washington D.C. to protest the use of the cards and other immigration issues in late April. “I hate to say it, but sometimes the beast lashes out most strongly right before it dies,” said John Herrera, one of the founders of the Durham, North Carolina, based $19 million Latino Community Credit Union. Herrera cast the ongoing conflict in the context of anxiety some Americans feel about globalization, the loss of jobs and continuing frustration among Americans with an immigration policy which was crafted at a time when family reunification drove immigration concerns. “We have to face the fact that the immigration policy reflects concerns about family reunification at a time when economic necessity is what drives U.S. immigration,” he said. Herrera used the example of the U.S. sweet potato industry, which is largely based in the Carolinas, as an example. Sweet potatoes have to be harvested by hand and the labor is back-breakingly hard. Immigrants need to be on hand to do that work, whether undocumented or documented, because even Americans who do it will not want their children to follow after them doing it. “The trend line across generations is away from non-skilled manual labor,” he pointed out. In the absence of real immigration reform and some sort of guest worker program, Matricula consular cards are part of the system the U.S. government has approved to track and support an economically necessary work force. Credit Union Impact? For their part, CUNA and NAFCU in the past have supported credit unions being able to use the cards for identification and both associations say that their positions have not changed. CUNA characterized matricula critics as a noisy minority and not one that represents mainstream thought and NAFCU pointed out that federal law and regulation allows credit unions to use the cards. Yet Herrera and matricula opponents agreed that a vigorous national debate on immigration policy is looming and that the matricula question may not be completely resolved until that conversation finally takes place. “This is a conversation we really need to have,” Herrera said. [email protected]

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