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WASHINGTON – Whether and how credit unions and banks accept the so-called Matricula Consular as identification from new account openers continued controversial in 2005 as the issue became ensnared in the nation’s broader conversation about immigration policy. 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 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 have also maintained that the question has been settled by policy makers and is unlikely to be revisited, but activists who said they are working “in the grass roots” asserted that the question is far from settled. The issue drew a significant attention in March when a long-time member of the $638 million Altura Credit Union, which used to be known as Riverside County’s Credit Union, Freeman Sawyer, was one of about 40 picketers at the credit union’s Riverside headquarters. Sawyer and the picketers said that his organization, the Citizens Alliance for a Secure America, was only one of many groups seeking to reverse what they said was policymaker’s and the credit union’s 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 complained 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, it’s drug smuggling, human smuggling and gangs as well,” he added. 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. Both Matricula supporters and opponents agreed that since then the Matricula issue has continued to bubble alongside the broader immigration issue on the nation’s agenda, it will probably crop up again in 2006 as part of that national debate. [email protected]

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