Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies
Marti Dinerstein, fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and president of Immigration Matters, a public-policy analysis firm in New York.
George Grayson, professor of government at William and Mary and an adjunct fellow at CSIS, the Center for Strategy and International Studies, here in Washington, as well as an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.
Craig Nelson, director, Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Good afternoon. Thanks for being here and covering something that I thought we would end up getting no coverage for, seeing as the State of the Union is tonight. But I guess everybody can't cover the State of the Union Address, so thanks for coming.
My name is Mark Krikorian. I'm executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. We're a think tank here in Washington that examines and critiques the impact of immigration on the United States.
The issue that we're going to be discussing today, the Matricula Consular, Mexico's consular registration card, is one that has been sort of below the radar for a good while. But in the local communities and in the Mexican government, it's been a matter of some importance, of relatively high priority. Recently a top official in Mexico's Foreign Ministry asked rhetorically, "How do you eat an elephant?" And he answered his own question, "One bite at a time." And the reference was to illegal alien amnesty. Before 9/11, Mexico thought it had a good shot of a comprehensive amnesty for the 3 (million) to 5 million Mexican illegal aliens in the United States. Even though the prospects of that weren't all that good even before 9/11, frankly, after the terrorist attacks, it became highly unlikely that anything like that was going to happen any time soon.
So the Mexican government has adopted a kind of piecemeal approach, and part of it is this Matricular Consular that's the subject of a paper we are releasing today. You have it in your packets. It's called, "IDs for Illegals: The 'Matricula Consular' Advances Mexico's Immigration Agenda."
The author will start, make a presentation about the paper. Then we'll follow with two respondents -- one of whom isn't here yet, but he has assured me he is on his way -- who will partly respond to the paper but also amplify on some other aspects of it.
To begin with, Marti Dinerstein is the author of the paper, sitting to my right. She's a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and president of Immigration Matters, a public-policy analysis firm in New York. She's written two previous papers for the center on this issue of identification documents and the security of them. And all of our work, including the paper, Marti's paper that we're releasing today, and her previous papers and everything else, are on our website at www.cis.org.
We'll follow with the two respondents, the first of whom is only now unburdening himself of his coat and other accoutrements, George Grayson, who is a professor of government at William and Mary and an adjunct fellow at CSIS, the Center for Strategy and International Studies, here in Washington, as well as an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.
He's made scores of research trips to Mexico, and having accompanied him on a election watch, a polling watch mission into Mexico a couple of years ago, I can attest that he seems to personally be acquainted with every single member of the Mexican political class on a first-name basis.
George is going to talk some more about the Mexican government's agenda and thinking behind pushing this I.D. document for illegal aliens.
Our second respondent will be Craig Nelsen. He's director of a group called Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement, which is a network of attorneys, lawmakers, law enforcement people and other -- and immigration experts and others interested in promoting and encouraging enforcement of the immigration laws, something which is sorely -- been sorely needed for a long time. And Craig has actually been at the forefront of whatever relatively limited efforts there have been so far to counter the spread of the matricula consular.
So we'll start with Marti and then go to George and then Craig, and after that we'll be happy to take questions. Marti?
MARTI DINERSTEIN: Thank you, Mark.
I'm here to discuss the matricula consular, an I.D. card being issued by Mexicans, the nation responsible for 50 percent of the illegal immigrants in the U.S. They want police departments, motor vehicle bureaus, government, local governments to accept the matricula as valid I.D. And many of those entities have agreed to do so, irrespective of the fact that the issue of secure I.D. became a homeland security concern after the terrorist attacks.
Pre-9/11, Mexico's important foreign policy objective was a comprehensive migration agreement, which was being actively discussed in Washington. Post-9/11, those plans were put on indefinite hold by the U.S. Instead, both our southern and northern borders became sources of acute concern in Washington.
Mexico had no choice but to adapt to this reality. Making lemonade of lemons, it created a more achievable migration agenda, the linchpin of which is the matricula consular. It's an identity card that's been issued by Mexico to its nationals since 1870 if, when living abroad, they ever found the need for consular assistance.
In an audacious political maneuver, Mexico decided to turn the matricula into a vehicle to achieve quasi-legal status for its undocumented population. It was a two-pronged strategy. First, they needed to convince the U.S. that the I.D. was a secure document, and second, they needed to initiate a grass-roots lobbying campaign to win acceptance for it at the local level, particularly in areas with large populations of Mexicans. So, a new, improved matricula was created. It was introduced in March 2002 in the major metropolitan areas. It's been totally redesigned, it is now bilingual, and for the first time, includes a local address, which is a necessity for the police, banks and motor vehicle departments.
Importantly, it contains several features to prevent counterfeiting. My research has shown that while those safeguards certainly make the card more reliable, the matricula is not a secure identity document. All of the information you'll need on the security of the ID is in the paper that's in your packet; it would take way too long today for me to go through the details. I'm happy to do that later, but right now, I'm just going to do the top-line findings.
The goal of a secure ID is one person, one identity, one card. One person is obviously the applicant for the matricula. Mexico insists that they appear in person to have their photos taken. No mail-ins, no phone-ins, no Internet. This is good procedure.
However, one identity is a big problem, and it's an issue faced by every organization that issues ID cards. To be truly secure, the "breeder" documents used to obtain the ID must be authenticated. That means they must be matched against some other data that corroborates the information. Press reports indicate that breeder documents are being cross-checked against computerized records in Mexico; they're not, for two reasons. First, the breeder documents that are presented by Mexicans to get the card are not scanned. Physical copies are made and put into a file at the consulate office, so as a practical matter, there's nothing computerized to check against. (Chuckles.) Two, matriculas are issued on a same-day basis, often from remote locations that are not fancy, like a tent outside a bank or a church social hall.
To authenticate breeder documents in an online, real-time environment, the following would be needed: Dedicated communication -- dedicated data lines and multiple layers of communications security, almost instantaneous confirmation or declination of the documents, sophisticated interface programming and communications technology and support at each consulate. The price tag would easily be in the tens of millions of dollars.
What is really happening is that Mexico is relying on the expertise of the staffs in its 47 consulate offices to visually authenticate the documents.
There also are safeguards currently to protect -- sorry, I can't read my writing here. (Pauses.) There also are safeguards currently to protect against more than one card being issued to the same person. There are problems with that. Concurrent with the issuance of each new matricula, a digital file of the photograph, signature, and data element is created. That file would need to be transmitted either to Mexico with a central database, or somehow networked with all of the other 47 consulates to ensure that no more than one card had been issued to one person. Again, in its discussions with law enforcement and motor vehicle officials, Mexico has indicated that was being done, or that they were building a system to accomplish that. But the problem is that the system is not ready yet. Everyone seems to think it will be, if for no other reason than Mexico needs it for its own purposes, but it's not a reality yet. It's a timing issue. But in this case, timing is everything because well over one million matriculas were issued in the past; they have no security features whatsoever, and they're still valid. And Mexico issued over one million matriculas in 2002 without the safeguards of that system being available to them. Fraud is occurring. The INS in Denver arrested a man who was carrying three matriculas; all had his photograph with a different name.
As I said earlier, when Mexico was forced to down-scale its immigration agenda and decided to use the matricula as a way to achieve quasi-legal status for its undocumented population, it had a two-pronged policy. I just discussed the elements needed for a secure identity document. Local authorities never seriously questioned Mexico's assertion that the card was secure. They seemed to have assumed that having a card that was relatively tamper-proof was all that was needed for that. But that is incorrect.
The second thing Mexico needed to do was to initiate its grassroots lobbying campaign to gain acceptance for this at the local level. The 47 consulates have executed that strategy with precision and energy. They travel ceaselessly, it seems from press reports, from towns to cities to outposts, tirelessly calling on the mayor, the police chief, the local bank officials, motor vehicle officials, and state legislators. Each small success is celebrated and announced to the local media. A scorecard is maintained at the embassy, which is disseminated to the consulates, so that a win with a police chief, say, in California can be used by the consulate office in Georgia to sort of give credence to the fact of the growing momentum of acceptance for the matricula.
And indeed, they have had good results in terms of getting acceptance. The government released something on December 30th which said that 74 banks in America accept it, as do 13 states to obtain a drivers license, and more than 800 police departments or some law enforcement entities.
But those numbers don't reflect why the matricula is so important to Mexican illegals. Quite simply, it is transforming their lives in America. In conversations with the media, Mexico trivializes the benefits available from a matricula card by referencing things like library cards and video rentals and utility services. But the benefits are much more profound. In localities where the matricula is accepted, it has reduced the chances that illegal Mexicans will be arrested, jailed or deported; it has given them entree to mainstream banking services; it has provided access to city and state services; and in 13 states, it's gained them the same drivers license that is carried by American citizens. Mexico did not confer these privileges; local governments and entities within the United States did.
Local police have been willing to accept it because some ID is better than no ID. The ground rules seem to be that no arrests will be made for a minor infraction. This means that no background checks are done, no fingerprints are taken, no criminal databases are checked. For Mexican citizens who possess one, the matricula has become a shield that hides any past criminal activity. But criminality is rampant in Mexico and inevitably crosses our porous border. This is particularly true for drug smugglers, but also for money launderers and human smugglers, who are exactly the kind of people who are facilitating terrorism worldwide. Even if local police want to ignore federal immigration law and decide on their own that illegal status is not a crime, wouldn't it at least promote public safety for them to take fingerprints and run a background check?
Banks are supposed to be good at analyzing risk, but it looks as though they have not done their matricula homework. Apparently, banks in Mexico don't hold the matricula in high regard as an identity document. No major bank headquarters in Mexico lists the matricula among the several official ID documents they accept to start accounts, so why would U.S. banks, bastions of prudence, accept an insecure ID issued by a foreign government to its nationals residing illegally in the United States?
One answer seems to be that banking regulators have not objected and the U.S. Treasury gave its de facto approval in a report to Congress on the secure identification requirements mandated by the USA Patriot Act. In a footnote appearing in the body of its commentary, Treasury said, quote: "Thus, the proposed regulations do not discourage bank acceptance of the matricula consular identity card that is being issued by the Mexican government to immigrants," end quote. Especially in the context of the Patriot Act and our focus on homeland security, it is difficult to comprehend why Treasury would give comfort to an identity card being offered by a single foreign government whose contiguous border with the United Sates is a matter of acute concern.
Finally, drivers licenses. All illegal aliens prize drivers licenses because it serves as a domestic passport. It's the most widely accepted identity document in America. Given a drivers license, a Mexican illegal no longer needs a matricula card. Apparently, 13 states are accepting the matricula as ID to obtain a drivers license, but recently, two states with large undocumented populations resisted lobbying and just said no.
New York's Department of Motor Vehicles refused to add the matricula to its list of approved identity documents, citing concerns about security and identity fraud. Similarly, California Governor Gray Davis showed political courage by vetoing legislation that would have granted licenses to illegals. He said that 9/11 made it abundantly clear that a drivers license was much more than a license to drive; it is one of the primary documents we use to identify ourselves. He also made a point about equal treatment, saying that it was not possible to give a license just to Latinos; any legislation had to presume the privilege would be available to all nationalities.
In closing, I'd just say that no one disputes Mexicans' right to issue a matricula consular and maintain a registry of its citizens' names that are living in the United States. What is in dispute is the wisdom of American institutions accepting it on an equal basis with official U.S. ID and the propriety of Mexico lobbying them to do so. This issue extends beyond the immediate example of Mexico and the matricula, and must be considered in terms of precedent-setting policy for treatment of other foreign governments who wish to do the same for their illegal populations.
Within the last several months -- I'm sorry -- within the last month, these concerns finally have been raised to appropriately high levels. Members of Congress have sent letters to the secretary of State and the Treasury Department. The governor of Colorado asked the Mexican consul general to explain her office's lobbying efforts on behalf of the matricula. The reasons why we find ourselves addressing the far-reaching implications of the matricula is an almost total lack of interior enforcement of our immigration laws, and the matricula issue has starkly highlighted the dangers inherent in that benign neglect.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Marti. Now we'll have some comments from George Grayson.
GEORGE GRAYSON: Thank you very much, Mark. I want to say, first of all, I don't pretend to speak for the Embassy of Mexico. Ambassador Juan Jose Bremer could do a much better job in one-tenth of the time that I could do, and certainly, the new secretary of Foreign Relations, Ernesto Derbez, would be brilliant if he were on this panel, and I couldn't duplicate his effort.
I speak more, I suppose, from the perspective of a New Deal Democrat. For some of you younger people, that's a Democrat that grew up in the -- at least, in the shadow of Franklin Roosevelt, or at least, grew up learning about Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and their commitment to the downtrodden in this country. Because I think the government, whether it's in Mexico or the United States, has a soaring obligation to those who are less fortunate than those who are in this room.
I did have contact with the Mexican Embassy, and despite the virus over the weekend, they made three attempts to e-mail material to me and succeeded on the second and third attempt. And they point out, as Marti has done so eloquently, that the whole concept of a matricula is one that's embedded in the Treaty of Vienna in 1870; that Mexico has had this kind of a document for more than 125 years; and that it really is designed to ensure the best interest of Mexicans who are residing in the United States, whether that be when they come in contact with law enforcement agencies, with an educational system, perhaps problems at the work place, legal transactions, and what's increasingly important for the Mexicans who live and work here, legally and illegally, is to be able to send dollars back to their hometowns, and they would prefer to do that without paying 5 or 10 or 15 percent fees to various companies. And of course, with the matricula, it's much easier to open a bank account; in fact, banks are soliciting business especially from the Hispanic-American community and from the Hispanic community. And once you've got a bank account, you can accomplish these remittances much more effectively, much more economically, with less chance of perhaps some of the money going astray between here and Mexico.
I think the 47 consuls general, the consuls, the consular officers, are -- all deserve a bonus, or a sharp increase in their salaries, because they have done an incredible job of promoting this concept. Marti, correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that you found that some 1 million matriculas were issued in 2002, and I'm absolutely spellbound by the fact that these documents, which are increasingly sophisticated and increasingly tamper-proof, can be issued in one day. I would like for our department that issues visas to be able to match that kind of a record.
Having said that, though, I don't want to be patronizing to Mexico, but I think we have to recognize that the matricula has an overall group of beneficiaries and, while Mexicans who are residing in the United States legally may want to have a matricula to increase their fount of documents, that it's more likely that someone is here -- who is here illegally is going to want the matricula as a document that will help them get a driver's license, get a bank account, get a library card and otherwise enter the United States more easily, and also to reside here with fewer problems.
I suppose I would be more sympathetic to the position of the U.S. government, which is largely to see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil about the matricula, if it in fact Mexico were some Bangladesh-like country that was incredibly underdeveloped. Just in the several minutes I have -- and I think there's a contingent of state troopers waiting for me outside because I set a record coming up from Williamburg this morning -- but if you just look a the wealth that Mexico has, it is a cornucopia: oil in the Gulf of Campeche; gas in the Burgos Basin; silver in Taxco; coal in Coahuila; the tomatoes from Sinaloa, which we're all eating this time of year, because if you get the machine-picked tomatoes from California, you could break glass if you threw them at it; the Mayan ruins of Palenque; the wine from Baja California matches anything that you can find in the Napa Valley; the resorts of Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapalapa; universities like ITAM, the Collegio de Mexico and of course Monterrey Tech.
And I would be remiss if I didn't mention newspapers, that unless I read five or six Mexican newspapers every day, I simply don't feel informed. And I start with Reforma and Universal and La Jornada and move on from there.
So what I'm saying is that we have an enormously wealthy country that's south of the Rio Grande. It's wealthy in physical resources. It's wealthy in human resources. It's wealthy in natural resources.
Just conjure in your mind for a moment the notion that if, say, Singapore or Taiwan were able to lease Mexico for 10 or 20 years, I would dare say that within five or six years we gringos would be shouting from the rooftops about the colossus of the South and how Mexico was producing so many more products so more efficiently and with such better maintenance and follow-through than we could in the United States.
The problem is -- and this is why I have reservations, not about ingenuity of the Mexican government in trying to look after its citizens, but in the fact that the U.S. government has indeed -- unable to perhaps satisfy President Vicente Fox's major agenda with regard to immigration, has allowed this kind of quasi-citizenship to emerge by unofficially recognizing the matricula and, to the extent that banks are allowed to use the matricula, officially recognizing the matricula. And that is that as long as the U.S. is an escape valve for Mexico, the politicians there will simply not engage the pressing issues of the day. And let me mention four and wait until you have questions and answers to advance my thesis further.
Tax collection. None of us likes to pay taxes, but in this country we pay anywhere from 25 to 30 percent of GDP in taxes. The figure in Mexico is 11 percent; it's only half that that the Brazilians pay, and the Brazilians aren't exactly enthusiastic taxpayers. They're much like Americans in that regard.
An absolute refusal to allow private capital -- be it Argentine private capital, be it French private capital -- in their hydrocarbon exploration and development. Every other country in Latin America, including Cuba, allows risk contracts, which are the best way to maximize your production of oil and natural gas, the prices of which are going to continue to climb, I suspect, especially if the president tonight lays the groundwork for an attack on Baghdad.
Furthermore, an unwillingness to undertake a basic electricity reform, a basic reform that would pave the way again for private investment in the electricity sector. And that's largely because you've got a couple of major unions, especially the union, the SME, electrical workers union, that dominates the -- one of the monopolies, the one that operates in the greater Mexico City area, saying, well, if you let private capital into the electricity sector, next the running dogs of capitalism will have stolen our Mayan ruins, or will have taken the Zocolo, or will take a disproportionate number of those juicy, ripe beefsteak tomatoes from Sinaloa.
And finally -- although it's not finally, but as one more example, we have a mayor of Mexico City who is arguably the most astute politician in the Americas, because he is governing a city that most people believed is ungovernable. And yet he manages to have a public opinion approval rating that's higher than that of the president himself. It's on a par with the president's wife, Marta, who is the most popular female, according to polls, in Mexico. And he's doing this by, in part, lots of subsidies; subsidies to people, senior citizens -- although they're not called "senior citizens," but people of the third age -- which I think is a nice euphemism as I move into that category -- those who are disabled, women who are single heads of households, poor youngsters in the more impoverished boroughs of Mexico City; that is, there are just lots of programs that the government is sponsoring. How is it paying for it? "Quien sabe?" The debt of Mexico City is increasing fortitudinously.
So I suppose in conclusion, I would once again commend the Mexican government's ingenuity. I think Castaneda got at least one thing right when he was foreign secretary -- it's hard to think of some others, but at least one thing right. I don't blame the 47 consulates for trying to disseminate the matriculas. But I would say that it probably does a disservice to the long-term development of Mexico and to the long-term bilateral relationship because it really does allow politicians in Mexico and in the United States -- but especially in Mexico -- to avoid the hard decisions that would allow them, with all of the bounteous wealth that Mexico has, to improve the lot of the 50 percent of their citizens who live mostly in abject poverty. So the Mexicans get an A for ingenuity. I think probably the U.S. government would get a far lesser grade for its acquiescing in this program.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, George.
And now, to talk about the matricula issue and response to it here in the United States is Craig Nelsen from Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement.
CRAIG NELSEN: Thank you, Mark.
In the view of Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement, or FILE, the acceptance -- the widespread acceptance of the matricula card by U.S. institutions is just another example of the widespread and blatant disregard for immigration law enforcement. It seems to us that as a nation in a world in which there are nearly 5 billion people who live in countries poorer than Mexico, our immigration laws need to be taken seriously sooner rather than later. FILE is the only group in the United States that's actually working within the court system exclusively on the issue of immigration law enforcement. And our experiences and our analysis of the matricula card, when we first started to pay attention to it about six months ago, led us to believe that there are some very serious legal problems with a card that's used overwhelmingly by illegal aliens in the United States, as has been widely reported by The Washington Post, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and many other organizations; that the acceptance of this card actually does encourage illegal immigration, and that it amounts to a kind of stealth amnesty for illegal immigrants in the United States. Amnesties, of course, encourage more illegal immigration, as every study has shown, and are therefore just in themselves are a bad public policy and should be avoided. In fact, the Mexican government openly asserts that the matricula card is a kind of amnesty. I think they mostly assert this for political domestic consumption, but nevertheless, I think they're right. Again, I agree with the other two panelists that have spoken that Mexico has every right to issue whatever kind of card it wants in the United States or to issue the matricula card. The problem arises with the acceptance by U.S. institutions of the card.
The acceptance of the card, as Marti pointed out, basically falls to institutions in two categories, the first being public entities, municipalities, police departments, housing agencies in cities and things of this nature; and on the other hand, financial institutions, banks. About five or six months ago, FILE, Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement, began sending legal analyses of some of the questions raised by acceptance of the matricula card to institutions in both categories, both financial institutions and public entities, municipal governments. The arguments basically are very similar for both categories, with a few differences. With both categories, we think by accepting the matricula card, violate federal law. We think it's a violation of Section 274 actually, of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which provides criminal penalties for any act that encourages or induces an alien to come to, enter or reside in the United States knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry or residence is or will be in violation of the law. We think it is fairly obvious to most people that if a bank opens a bank account for an illegal alien or a city provides subsidized housing to an illegal alien, the bank or the city is encouraging that person to remain illegally in the United States, explicitly violating Section 274 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. For this reason alone, we believe any policy to accept the Mexican-issued ID card is a violation of federal law. We also think both categories of institutions that accept the card are risking or exposing themselves to civil liability issues. Entering the United States without inspection, or illegal entry, is a criminal offense under 8 USC 1325. Providing public services to such an alien in knowing and reckless disregard of the alien's illegal status amounts to aiding and abetting a crime, by the language of the statute, and is a criminal violation in itself. By the aiding and abetting statute of Section 274, the distinction is eliminated between principals and accessories in alien smuggling crimes, and courts have held that aiding and abetting also relates to conduct while the illegal alien is in the United States.
Furthermore, aiding and abetting an illegal entrant in his continued illegal residence in the United States constitutes a dangerous and unreasonable risk to the health and safety of the public since, among other reasons, an illegal entrant is not subject to a criminal background or health check before entering the United States, as legal entrants are. Moreover, when such aid to an illegal alien is administered via official acceptance by any public entity or financial institution of the matricula card, by which possession any person acting under the authority of such institution would or should have known, in the exercise of reasonable care, that the person holding the card is an illegal alien, the public entity, bank or its officers can be said to be negligent. For these reasons, official acceptance of the matricula consular by any public entity or bank can be said to be conduct so reckless as to demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results. In the case of a public entity and its officers or representatives, under such a suit, the entity may not enjoy sovereign immunity under government immunity statutes.
In other words, accepting the card would expose either banks or public entities to civil liability law suits, and in the case of public entities, officers -- say, a mayor or a city council or the head of a housing unit, would not be protected under normal governmental immunity suits -- or, statutes. So if any illegal alien, whose presence in the United States can be shown to have been encouraged, induced and/or aided and abetted by any public entity or bank, commits a crime, during the commission of which an American citizen suffers personal injury, it is our view that the injured party would have standing to bring a personal injury law suit against the public entity or bank, and to the extent allowed by law, against its officers and agents, individually and severally, for damages.
Banks are also subject in our view to suits under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization statutes, or the RICO statutes, for those familiar with it. The important thing to know about RICO is first of all, encouraging an illegal alien to remain illegally in the United States is a criminal offense, indictable under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, under RICO Acts, if it is done for the purpose of financial gain, specifically listed as a predicate act for a RICO law suit -- RICO suit. Under RICO, any person injured in his business or property by reason of a violation of RICO statutes may sue therefore and may claim treble damages, costs, attorney's fees and injunctions. Class actions are permissible under RICO through Federal Rules for Civil Procedure, Rule 23 when plaintiffs have individual standing under RICO statutes, therefore, it is reasonable to assume that non-matricula-accepting financial institutions would have a standing as a class in a RICO suit against those of its competitors that accept the matricula. And there's some serious discussion about this, actually, right now in the banking industry.
Public entities are also in violation of -- in extra violation of Section 274 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, under the -- Section 401 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, by accepting the Mexican ID card, because Section 401 prohibits non-qualified or illegal aliens from receiving most federal public benefits. So any policy that accepts the matricula consular for the purpose of doling out city services explicitly violates this provision of federal law, insofar as the services to illegal aliens are paid for with federal funds. This covers a lot of subsidized housing programs and things of that nature.
Also, public entities violate, we think, the constitutional precepts that give total plenary power of -- over immigration -- all matters of immigration to Congress exclusively. The courts have repeatedly struck down any local or state law that attempts to have anything at all to do with the presence in the United States of foreign nationals, and we think any matricula policy would face the same problems in the courts.
So, anyway, just to kind of wrap up, in addition to these legal arguments, FILE -- when we sent -- we sent -- FILE has actually, sent notices to thousands of banks and public entities, city councils, mayors, chiefs of police, sheriffs and other officials around the country, and in our notices, we always include that it's just -- acceptance of the matricula card is just plain irresponsible policy; it's aiding a foreign government, which no institution of the United States has any business doing, regardless of which government we're talking about. And it's not supported by the American people. Polls consistently show that the American people are very against illegal immigration or are always for strict, firm -- humane but firm enforcement of immigration laws.
So what we think the results of our notices have been very encouraging, actually, even though it's a very recent undertaking. We've had banks calling us after receiving our notices asking for pictures of the matricula cards so that they can post them in their banks, warning the tellers not to accept the card. The Banking Commission of Colorado, where we notified the 50 largest banks in the state of our concerns about the card, has backed off of endorsing the card just recently. We think that the more -- the more people study the questions raised, the more they understand that there are really serious problems here from the legal side on accepting this.
The public entities, the letters we've sent, the notices we've sent to public entities, have also been very encouraging result-wise. In several cities -- I can name Detroit and Boulder, just for two examples -- the card was said to be introduced as public policy. After receiving the FILE notices, the -- both Detroit and Boulder have suddenly -- at least off the agenda. And one city hall in Michigan, for example, just -- (audio break, tape change) -- by all accounts, it was considered a "slam dunk," in their words. And after receiving our notices, they actually rejected the card.
And so, again, the arguments raised not only, I think, do cause legitimate concern on the legal side, but I also think people within these organizations, who are not comfortable with giving bank accounts and services to illegal aliens -- these notices give them the legal -- or, the arguments they need to use within their organizations to resist the card.
Just last week, the GSA now has -- the General Services Administration -- has suspended acceptance of the card on the federal level. I think all of these things -- we can just -- we can infer that momentum that was evident six months ago in this sweeping acceptance of the matricula card has certainly -- well, we would say it appears to have come to a halt.
The future -- you know, in spite of these successes of those who oppose acceptance by U.S. institutions of the matricula card, it's going to be a lengthy battle to stop this. We think one very encouraging sign from those of us who support a more modern enforcement policy on immigration -- I think one development that really bears watching is legislation is being introduced that would stop -- would prevent acceptance of the matricula card in the United States by public entities.
The legislation was written by FILE and Numbers USA, another group here in Washington. It's already been introduced in Arizona and Colorado. It's generating a lot of interest in those two states and a lot of support. People are -- the legislation, briefly, is just -- it just requires those public entities that disburse public services that require the recipients of the service to produce an ID; it requires the ID to be secure and verifiable, issued by U.S. state or federal authorities. In effect, it would stop the matricula card, but it's also a very common-sense national security requirement.
This legislation, like I say, is in Arizona and Colorado. This morning, we discovered it's been introduced now in Virginia, and as reported in the Orange County Register this morning, federal legislation will be introduced over the next day or two, based -- which is legislation written by FILE and Numbers USA.
I think this is a great thing because first of all, the -- identity is an important issue. For those of us who are concerned about immigration law enforcement, there are lots of areas that identity touches: you know, access to non-emergency health care, driver's licenses, bank accounts. But also, the promise of these services are the magnets that lure millions of foreign nationals to attempt the dangerous border crossing every year in the first place, which results in hundreds of deaths of both foreigners and Americans. And just out of -- for simple humanitarian concerns, we have to stop providing magnets that result in this sort of -- these sorts of tragedies.
The legislation would also prevent other countries that have already started considering their own versions of the card, like Iraq -- sorry, not Iraq -- Guatemala, and even recently, China, from introducing their own versions of the card.
And it would -- the legislation is good because it would -- since it doesn't mention immigration at all, it would withstand any court challenges under the Plenary Powers Act. In other words, it doesn't – it’s simply a secure ID, so it wouldn't have anything to do with immigration. And as one of the legislators in Colorado put it, the legislation would be politically popular. In his words, it passes the guy-on-the-bar-stool test -- you know, it just makes sense to most people and it would be popular.
So just in conclusion, the momentum, I think, on the matricula card was -- that it was enjoying just six months ago has apparently been stopped. And we see this as good news for those who agree that U.S. immigration laws need to be humanely but firmly enforced.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Craig. And thanks to the other speakers.
We're open for questions, if anybody has anything that they'd like to know more about than what we just said.
Yes, ma'am? If you could identify yourself, too, please.
QUESTION: (Off mike) -- is used by Mexican elite. Now, how can you prove that, considering that immigration status is not -- (off mike)? You claim those things, but you haven't proved that they -- you know, how many matriculas were given out -- (off mike) -- immigration status.
And second, you say that the matricula consular also lessens the chances of being deported. However, Mexico is still the highest on the list for most people that are deported. So how can you sustain that claim that -- (off mike)?
MS. DINERSTEIN: Well, first, if someone -- if a Mexican is in the country legally and is in a position where they've been asked to provide identification, they're going to provide identification that will be accepted without question in any state, in any city whatever; they are going to present identification from the United States government, which they have.
The fact that Mexico has the highest rate of deportation is because Mexico has by far the largest illegal population here. It's estimated -- the INS estimates that there are about 9 million people here illegally. Of those, 40 percent are thought to be visa over-stayers, and 60 percent entered our borders without permission, and of that number, the vast majority are Mexican. So that's a simple matter of arithmetic.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And I'll just reinforce the point Marti made, is that a legal immigrant, or a person who has legal status here, whether he's an immigrant, a foreign student, a legal visitor, by definition has U.S. government-issued documents because if he didn't, he wouldn't be legal. In other words, it's -- by definition, those who are legally here have United States government-issued documents, and anybody who needs some kind of document other than that is by definition an illegal alien.
Now, this is not to say that everybody who gets the matricula is an illegal, because Mexico does in fact issue them to other people. I lived in what was then the Soviet Union for a couple of years, and I checked in with our consulate, just as people do when they spend extended periods of time overseas.
But a Mexican green card holder, a lawful, permanent resident of the United States who has citizenship in Mexico but is a legal resident here has no need for a matricula within the United States. He has a green card and a Social Security card and a drivers license to open his bank accounts, to show police officers, et cetera.
Oh, and there's also a fee, which you're not going to want to pay, really, unless you -- presumably, you're not going to want to pay, unless you have some good reason to get the document.
QUESTION: But it also serves for reentry -- (off mike) -- to Mexico -- (off mike).
MR. KRIKORIAN: The Immigration and Customs inspectors of the United States couldn't care less about your --
QUESTION: No, no. But I mean --
MR. KRIKORIAN: No, no. I understand.
QUESTION: (Off mike).
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, that's why you have it. But you don't present it to the police when you're stopped. You don't present it to Wells Fargo when opening a bank account. You present it to Mexican immigration inspectors. And of course -- yes, that's the reason people used to get them, before this latest push.
Anyone else? Yes, ma'am?
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. NELSEN: No, we wouldn't file any lawsuits. We probably wouldn't have standing to. But what we would do is help an American victim of our lax immigration law enforcement who's been injured, suffered some sort of personal injury, we would help find them legal counsel so that they could file a lawsuit against Wells Fargo or the City of Denver or, you know, IBP or something --
MR. GRAYSON: Wachovia.
MR. NELSEN: Wachovia. Right.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Anyone else?
QUESTION: (Off mike.) And just a general question. (Off mike.) And my question is for anybody on the panel who would like to answer it. When you're visiting Mexico, family and friends, are on vacation, and you're -- (off mike) -- economy, and you would like to send some money back to the United States, what kind of ID would you have to give them?
MR. KRIKORIAN: There's not that many people sending remittances back to the United States from Mexico. Remittances, of what you're talking about, sending money home, is a phenomenon that happens when people immigrate from one country to the next. People immigrate from Turkey to Germany, send money home to Turkey. People immigrate from Algeria to France, send money home to Algeria. Money goes from developed countries to non-developed countries. In fact, the Americans who live in Mexico -- and there is some significant number, especially retirees -- receive money from the United States, from Social Security. So the money flow, generally speaking, is going to be going from wealthier countries --
QUESTION: (Off mike) -- the bank in Mexico, what sort of ID do you need?
MR. KRIKORIAN: I have no idea. George, presumably, would know.
MR. GRAYSON: Well, my last stop always is at the Mercado Insurgentes. And somehow, in Stall 138, which I patronize because they're honest and they have good quality and so forth, they manage to separate me from all my foreign exchange except the amount to pay the taxi because they have such good-quality goods. Typically, any transaction, Mexican bank, you need a passport unless you're simply changing money at a casa de cambio, and then they look at your fifty-dollar bill and make sure it doesn't have Richard Nixon's picture on it and so forth, and will cash it.
I would take exception, though, to your premise that Mexican workers are the backbone of this economy. And again, it comes from a New Deal, pro-immigrant perspective that I hold. And that is that the Department of Labor finds that Americans or legal residents will do any job that's available in this country, but they're not going to cut asparagus -- as I once did when I was a dumb college student and got persuaded to spend the summer in California -- they're not going to cut asparagus in 106-degree weather for minimum wage or slightly more than that.
We have 15- to 17-percent of legal residents in this country -- these are whites in Appalachia, these are blacks in Mississippi, these are Hispanics in Los Angeles -- legal residents and citizens who are unemployed, and there are more unemployed every day, because of the macroeconomic policies being pursued. I, perhaps naively, think that the effort should be made in this country, through job training and through working to keep wages from being suppressed, because obviously lots of management would like to pay minimum wage or less -- but that we have an obligation to the unemployed and to the poor who legally reside in this country, without having a kind of porous border policy that benefits those who want to pay cheap wages.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Let me see -- well, you can talk to him afterwards. Let's see if anyone else has a question and give some more people a chance. Anyone else have any questions for the panel? Yes, ma'am?
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. KRIKORIAN: Excuse me?
QUESTION: To Mr. Nelsen, my name's -- (off mike). You were talking about -- (off mike) -- initiatives in the United States to -- (off mike) --
MR. NELSEN: Yes.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. NELSEN: Yes. To be clear, it's not actually -- the legislation has -- is not specific to immigration or any particular document. It just says exchange for services that require the production of identification -- the identification has to be verifiable and secure and issued by U.S. authorities, just to be really clear on that.
Yeah, Arizona, Colorado and Virginia have already introduced the bill. Several more states are on tap that will soon be introducing it. And tomorrow, I believe, federal legislation will be announced. I'm not sure it's the exact date of introduction. That was reported this morning in the Orange County Register.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Anyone else? Any other questions for the panel? Yes?
QUESTION: (Off mike.) Can you tell me if FILE is the sponsor of that federal legislation or who the sponsor is?
MR. NELSEN: FILE and Numbers USA co-authored the legislation. The sponsors so far -- I'm not really sure. Rohrabacher, but that's because he's the local congressman.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Okay. Well, thank you. Thank you, folks. The -- I'll speak for the panelists and say that they'll be here for you to approach afterwards if you have any other questions. And again, the report in its entirety is at our website at cis.org. Thanks a lot.