Panel Transcript: Mexico's Illegal-Alien ID Card

Should it be Valid in the United States

Related: Report

Dimitri Simes,
President, The Nixon Center

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.

Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO)

DIMITRI SIMES:  Welcome to the Nixon Center.  I’m delighted that we’re having this joint event with Mark Krikorian and the Center for Immigration Studies.  The Nixon Center has only recently established the Immigration Program.  Unfortunately, our program director, Bob Leiken, he just came from Europe, was in France, and it had such a profound influence on him that after that he went to Germany.  And of course after being in France and Germany, as a good American he needs several days to recover.  (Laughter.)

Well, our Immigration Program is quite young, and we depend very heavily on cooperation with Mark and his resources, intellectual resources particularly, and in his wise counsel.  Actually, we were thinking about having an immigration program literally from the inception of the Nixon Center from the days we were discussing the center with former President Nixon.  As you probably know, Nixon hardly could be accused of being anti-immigrant.  His national security advisor and secretary of State was Henry Kissinger.  I was Nixon’s foreign policy advisor during his last days, and whenever he did not like what I was saying he pretended that he couldn’t understand me.  (Laughter.)  He was remarkably tolerant of people who came from different places, and not only their accents but their perspectives, backgrounds, et cetera.

But Nixon, on a number of occasions, told us, a small group of people who were working with him trying to conceptualize a future center, that from his standpoint, immigration was the crucial matter of national security because, in his view, the United States was the most powerful nation, the most prosperous nation, and as long as the United States was what it should be and did not change its fundamental character the United States could handle almost any challenge, but if this character would be severely affected it would have profound implications for American foreign policy, for American national security, and for coherence as a nation.  That is why we are so pleased and so proud to work with Mark and to co-sponsor this panel with him and his center.

MARK KRIKORIAN:  Thank you, Dimitri.  I really appreciate the Nixon Center’s interest in this issue, and we’ve been working together now for maybe a year on joint projects, or thinking about joint projects, sponsoring events like this, and I think it’s really important that we combine the foreign policy and immigration issues and think about them jointly, at least on occasion, because we almost always think about it solely as a domestic issue.

What we’re talking about today is, again, an area that overlaps both foreign policy and domestic policy, and that is the Mexican consular registration card, or matricula consular card, something that Mexico has been doing for a long time.  Many other countries issue cards like this, but in the past couple of years it’s become politically very salient as the Mexican immigrant population, illegal alien population specifically, has grown so dramatically, and as political efforts to amnesty Mexican illegal aliens have not gotten anywhere within the United States.

We have, I daresay, two of the most appropriate people to talk about this issue.  Congressman Tancredo – Tom Tancredo to my left is a Republican from Colorado and head of the Immigration Reform Caucus in the House of Representatives, and is far and away the most active spokesman and advocate for immigration reform issues in the Congress, really in the country as a whole, and has introduced legislation regarding this matricula card and our response to it, and so I’m eager to hear his comments.

Our other speaker is Marti Dinerstein, to my right.  She’s a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and president of a public policy consulting firm, Immigration Matters, in New York.  She’s written a couple of the backgrounders for us that are in your packets and has made herself really one of the – probably the premier student of this matricula card outside of either our government or the Mexican government, and is really playing a very important role in furthering discussion and fostering effective debate.

Marti will give us kind of an overview of the issue.  I’d like the congressman then to tell us about some of his efforts regarding the matricula card.  I’m going to then offer some comments placing it in larger context, and then we’ll take questions and discussion from the audience.


MARTI DINERSTEIN:  Thank you, Mark.  I’d just like to say how pleased and proud I am to be with all of you at the Nixon Center today.  In the time allotted to me I’d like to touch on four main points: the reasons why Mexico has undertaken an aggressive lobbying campaign to have the matricula accepted within the United States; the reasons why the matricula is not a reliable identity document; the implications of its acceptance by local law enforcement, banks, and motor vehicle departments; and finally, the current conflicting signals as to whether the matricula will be embraced or at least tolerated by various levels of government in the U.S.

Pre-9/11, Mexico’s most important foreign policy objective was a comprehensive migration agreement, which was being actively discussed in Washington.  Post-9/11, talk of amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants abruptly ended as both our porous southern and northern borders became a source of acute homeland security concern.  Making lemonade out of lemons, Mexico crafted a more achievable migration agenda, the lynchpin of which is the matricula consular.  It is an identity card that has been issued by Mexico since 1870 to its nationals living abroad in case they ever had need of consular assistance.  Its purpose and use was totally benign and of no concern to any host country, including the United States.  But in an audacious political maneuver, Mexico decided to turn the matricula card into a vehicle to achieve at least quasi-legal status for its undocumented population in the U.S.  To do this they had to jump two hurdles.  First they had to convince the U.S. that the card was a secure identity document, and second, they had to initiate a grassroots lobbying campaign to win acceptance for it at the local level within the U.S.

They did improve the matricula in a number of ways.  For the first time they made it bilingual, and they also included a local U.S. address.  And, importantly, it now contains some anti-counterfeiting technology, which has increased the reliability of the card.  However, my research revealed that while the counterfeiting safeguards certainly help, the matricula is not a secure identity document.  The goal of a secure ID is one person, one identity, one card.  The matricula does not meet the latter two standards.  To be truly secure, so-called breeder documents used to obtain an ID must be authenticated.  That means they must be matched against some other data that corroborates the information.  A Mexican birth certificate is the principle document that’s being used to obtain the matricula.  Press reports indicate that it or other documents are being crosschecked against computerized records in Mexico.  They are not.  The breeder documents are not being electronically scanned at the Mexican consulates that issue matriculas.  Instead, paper files are kept so there is nothing computerized at the consulates with which to match against something computerized in Mexico.

Also, the manner in which the cards are issued basically guarantees that no authentication can take place.  Matriculas are issued on a same-day basis, often from remote locations with no sophisticated communications equipment.  For example, in April of this year the Chicago-based Mexican consulate issued 1,500 matriculas in two days at the offices of the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation.

To authenticate breeder documents in an online, real-time environment, the following would be needed: dedicated data lines and multiple layers of communication security, almost instantaneous confirmation or declination of the documents, sophisticated interface programming, and communications technology and support at each consulate.  The investment would easily be in the tens of millions of dollars.

What is really happening is that Mexico is relying on staff members in the 47 consulates to visually authenticate the documents.  The matricula also fails to meet the standards to ensure only one card for one person.  They are creating a digital file when they issue the matricula.  It includes the photograph, a signature, and the data elements on the card.  But that file needs to be transmitted to either a central database in Mexico or on some networked basis to the other 47 consulates to ensure that no more than one card has been issued to that one person.  In its discussions with law enforcement and motor vehicle bureaus, Mexico has said they are building that system.  And everyone seems to think that at some point it will exist, but it’s not ready yet, and in this case, timing is everything.

Well over one million matriculas were issued before 2002 and are still valid and in circulation.  They have absolutely no security features whatsoever.  The ones that were issued in 2002, over a million of them, or essentially a million, were issued without anything in place to authenticate the breeder documents or to safeguard against duplicate issuance.

Fraud is occurring.  To use just one example, the INS in Denver arrested a man who was carrying three different matriculas.  All had his photograph but three different names.  Mexico continues to claim that the matricula is a secure identity document, and a quiescent press continues to report that, but the facts belie it.

As I said earlier, Mexico’s strategy is to initiate a grassroots lobbying campaign to win acceptance for the matricula at the local level.  They do not in any way try to keep this a secret.  In fact, in a recent trip to Washington, Mexico’s foreign minister himself confirmed that this was their strategy.  Mexico’s lobbying has borne fruit.  As of December 30, 2002, an official Mexican document announced that 74 banks accept the matricula, as did 13 states to obtain a drivers license and more than 800 law enforcement agencies.  But those numbers don’t begin to convey why the matricula is so important to the Mexican government.  Very simply, it is transforming the lives of their citizens that are living here illegally and making it far more likely that they will remain in the country and continue to send a large portion of their earnings back home.  Remittances to Mexico totaled $10 billion in 2002, money that has become essential to Mexico’s faltering economy.

Mexico repeats like a mantra that the matricula does not change someone’s immigration status.  Thankfully, that is a true statement, but it comes close to achieving the functional equivalent.  In localities where the matricula is accepted, it has reduced the chances that an illegal Mexican alien will be arrested, jailed, or deported.  It has given them entrée to mainstream banking services.  It’s provided access to city and state services and privileges, including in-state tuition rates denied to military families posted temporarily in those states.  And in some states it’s granted them access to exactly the same drivers license that all of us carry.  Mexico did not confer those privileges; local governments and entities within the United States did.

I’m going to briefly review what’s happening with respect to the three areas where Mexico is particularly eager to get acceptance.  That’s with the police, with banks, and with motor vehicle departments.  Local police in communities with a large number of Mexican illegals have been willing to accept the matricula for a simple reason: some ID is better than no ID.  The ground rules seem to be that no arrest will be made for minor infractions.  This means that no criminal background checks are run, no fingerprints are taken, no criminal databases are checked.  For Mexican citizens who posses 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 traffickers, but also for money launderers and human smugglers who have recently been linked to organized crime in Mexico.  And while obviously the vast majority of illegal Mexican immigrants are not terrorists, they routinely commit other crimes such as fraudulently obtaining Social Security cards and INS cards and repeated unauthorized border crossings, which is a deportable offense.

A relatively small number of banks, actually 74 out of 9,000 federally insured financial institutions, have been accepting the matricula, but this includes some of the largest financial institutions in the world.  This would seem to be a remarkable occurrence as all banks are regulated, and forced therefore to, quote, “know your customer.”  But once again, I think the root of why this is happening is that Mexico lobbied the State Department and the Treasury Department to reduce the cost of remitting money back to Mexico, and to undertake a program to, quote, “bank the unbanked.”  Since Mexican illegals posses no other acceptable ID, Mexico backed the banks into accepting the matricula if they were going to do those things.  And in fact, the Treasury Department gave its tacit approval to the banks to do just that.  Lamentably, it did so in a report to Congress about the secure identification requirements of the USA Patriot Act.  This is really ironic, as Mexican banks do not hold the matricula in high regard as an identity document.  No major bank headquarters in Mexico lists the matricula consular among the several official ID documents that they accept to start a new account.  And in fact, according to a Mexican government press release at the end of 2002, the matricula was being accepted as an identity document for any purpose in only 10 of Mexico’s 33 states.

Especially in the context of the Patriot Act and our focus on homeland security, it’s difficult to comprehend why Treasury would give comfort to an identity card issued by a single foreign government when, as night follows day, you can assume that other foreign governments are going to wish the same privileges for their citizens living here illegally.  In fact, the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, Poland, Peru and El Salvador have begun, or are considering, issuing cards of their own.  More countries could follow; including somewhere the U.S. believes terrorists have been operating.  That is a scary prospect, particularly as it relates to the acceptance of foreign-issued documents to obtain a state-issued drivers license.  All illegal aliens prize a drivers license because it’s really a domestic passport.  Once you have it you can gain entry to virtually anything that you want to do.  It’s the most widely accepted identity document in America.

This is a subject that has occupied many state legislatures during the past year.  Some have decided to accept the matricula and some have not.  In a very positive sign in May, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which represents all 50 states, after careful study made a decision that is was, quote, “premature” to accept the matricula as part of its list of recommended identity documents that are accepted by Department of Motor Vehicle employees.  It mentioned concerns that the matricula lacked standardized issuance processes, uniform security features, and a secure database for verification purposes.

Since my time is up and I want to end with the message that it is possible to stop the matricula’s momentum, I’ll only briefly mention some additional good news developments that have occurred within the last few months.

Congressman Tancredo and several colleagues introduced legislation to ensure that only secure and verifiable ID could be accepted by the federal government.  Similarly, in May, he and others introduced a resolution of disapproval, the effect of which would be to block implementation of weakened Treasury regulations allowing banks to accept foreign government IDs rather than passports.  Similarly, Representative Sensebrenner, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, asked the White House to delay implementing the new Treasury Department rules, saying they undermined the intent of Congress, which was to raise the bar, not lower it, with respect to secure identification.  Lastly, Colorado became the first state to prohibit state and local entities from accepting the matricula.  This could stiffen the resolve of other states, and hopefully a little snowball will start.

After 9/11, the issue of secure identification became a matter of acute concern to the American people.  The unvarnished truth is that the matricula is neither secure nor verifiable identification.  It has achieved acceptance because of an orchestrated lobbying campaign by the Mexican government.  The success of that effort has spawned desire on the part of other nations to achieve acceptance of their consular cards for their illegals living within the U.S.  These efforts further blur the distinction between those who have a right to be in the United States and those who enter or stay here without permission.  Post-9/11, that situation is an unacceptable risk to our homeland security.

Thank you.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Thanks, Marti.  Congressman?

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R-CO):  Well, I think that Marti has done an excellent job in describing the problems inherent in the matricula and also the genesis of such a thing.  It is important to understand that in the Congress of the United States we have achieved a certain degree of – we have achieved a position, I guess I should say, where it is much more difficult now for the people, the proponents of open borders, to advance their agenda.  It is equally difficult for those of us who are proponents of immigration reform to advance our agenda.  Therefore we are sort of at loggerheads.  But the good part, I guess, is that we’ve been able to stop them from doing what they were going to do.

As Marti said, it was rolling along pretty dramatically, and movements toward open borders, amnesty and the rest, all of those things were moving along until 9/11.  And so although the desire on the part of all the folks who are pushing those ideas has not lessened – they are all still completely supportive of doing it – they just recognize that there are now some political obstacles in their path.

So it was really a brilliant move – I must tell you, I think that this strategy that the Mexican government came up with to continue the movement toward open borders, toward amnesty for the illegals living in the United States, was really a very good, very smart thing to do.  Nobody saw it coming.  As Marti said, these things have been around for a long time, the idea of a matricula card.  We’ve used them in the past; the United States has used them to give to our nationals in a country where there has been some sort of catastrophic event and people have lost their documentation so we’ve given them – we’ve handed these things out – very, very few over the course of history, but countries use them.  They just never have been thought of to be used in this way, the way that the Mexican government, and now several others, have chosen to use them.

There are a whole bunch of reasons why individual cities and/or states and/or localities and/or police departments may chose to accept these things, and each one of those – I guess if you look at it in just the microcosmic view you can understand why they do it.  As Marti says, they want something – some sort of ID is better than no ID, they say.  Well, this may be true, but in the – seldom do these folks really see the bigger picture, and that’s what we hope to be able to get them to focus on, get states, localities, individuals, congressmen, and legislators to focus on the bigger picture: what’s the purpose of this, why did this start, isn’t this not somewhat peculiar, and how the hell many immigration policies are we going to run in this country?  I mean, is the federal government going to run an immigration policy or is it going to be the Mexican consular offices, along with the city of Denver, the police department in Ohio?  I mean, you know, everybody is going to have their own immigration policy and, you know, that’s happening in a lot of places.  It happened even before in some cities that identified themselves as – I always want to say refugee city, but it’s –

MR. KRIKORIAN:  A sanctuary.

REP. TANCREDO:  -- sanctuary cities, some of them out here.  But we have to get a handle on this.  This is something the nation has to focus on because it is important to understand that there is this attack on the whole concept of citizenship.  Really, that’s what this boils down to, and that’s, again, another important thing I think our colleagues in the Congress and in the state legislatures have to understand, that all of these things, the matricula, the push for in-state tuition for people who are here illegally, for drivers licenses, and for voting, for god’s sake – you know, there are four cities not to far from here that allow people who are, quote “residents” to vote; just being a resident, showing your utility bill allows you to vote.  The mayor of D.C. proposed this for the District of Columbia just a short time ago. 

Now, you see, if you can come to this country without our permission and without our knowledge and yet obtain all of the benefits that accrue to someone who up to this point in time has been called a citizen, who is here legally; if you can get social services, if you can get your children educated, if you can even get them into college – you can get the taxpayer of the state to pay for it – if you can get public housing, if  you can get healthcare provided for you, if you can open a bank account, if you can get a drivers license, if you can vote, then I ask, what is the difference between you, someone here illegally with all of these opportunities, and someone who is not, someone who is a citizen?  There is no difference.  Of course there is none.  And that is the goal; that is the desired goal of many of the people who are involved with this whole movement.  It is to eliminate the difference, the distinction so that at a certain point in time, you know, residence determines all of these things, not citizenship.

Now, you’d have to ask them what motivates them; you’d have to ask them why somebody would want to do that.  There are a lot of reasons that come to mind.  It’s the sort of Wall Street Journal editorial page philosophy that – you remember they used to run an editorial every Fourth of July that said, “We don’t need borders; we should erase the borders.”  Now, they used to do that.  They don’t do it since 9/11 – haven’t done it since 9/11, but every year they used to do that on the Fourth of July.  There are people – there are certainly people in the Congress of the United States who believe that borders are anachronisms, that they are simply there – that they are problematic because they impede the flow of goods and services and people from place to place, and that markets should determine everything essentially, national strategies – to the extent that you can define a nation, I guess.

So there are these folks who come at it from a strictly philosophical libertarianesque point of view.  The Mexican government doesn’t necessarily – I don’t know to what extent they hold that point of view, but I know they see the benefits of massive immigration into the United States – emigration, from their point of view; immigration from our point of view, into the United States. 

I had a fascinating discussion with a gentleman by the name of Juan Hernandez.  This is about a year and half ago, and Mr. Hernandez was, at the time, the head of something called – a newly created ministry, by the way, in Mexico – fascinating name: it was called the Ministry for Mexicans Living in the United States.  And so I had the chance – I was in Mexico and I had the chance to meet him, and he’s a very interesting fellow – very, very sophisticated, very well-spoken – and he is a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico.  He was born in Texas, and as I say, served on the cabinet of Vincente Fox. 

And I asked him, what is the purpose of such a ministry?  This is an interesting thing, the Ministry for Mexicans Living in the United States.  I don’t know of another kind of – I’ve never heard of a government ministry of that nature, of that kind, for any other government in the world.  He said, well, it is of course – he explained this to myself and two other members of Congress who were there – he explained that the purpose of his ministry was to maintain and increase the flow of people into the United States from Mexico, and that they would do that in a variety of ways, and he showed us the little videotape that he had prepared that they show to Mexican nationals as they’re moving – transporting essentially to the United States, certain things about how to act, behave, where to get your stuff when you get here.  And he also explained that part of his job is once you’ve moved a lot of folks here, or of course added to the numbers who were here, Mexican nationals, his job was to make sure that they essentially – he didn’t use the words, but that they didn’t “go native” on him, that they didn’t become American, that they retained a political and cultural affiliation to Mexico.  That was his job, the job of this ministry.

Now, he was by far the most candid Mexican official with whom I met, and I think because of his candor he was, not too long thereafter, fired.  But the job goes on.  But he also explained that of course it was important to Mexico because they had such a huge population of people under 25 – it had doubled in the last 10 years – and unemployment was so high among that group – that’s a very unstable situation in Mexico, very disconcerting, and so, moving them to the United States, obtaining jobs, and of course they would send the remittances, the $10 billion, back home, that was a significant – I heard 20 to almost 30 percent of the GDP of Mexico is really represented by the remittances, not just from the United States but from all countries from which Mexican nationals are sending money home, so very important to Mexico for that purpose.

He also said something that was equally as fascinating.  He said that, you know, maintaining and increasing the number of Mexican nationals living in the United States who have political and cultural connections to Mexico, that they maintain – linguistic connections – helps influence our government’s policy vis-à-vis Mexico.  So to them it was a win-win situation.  Massive immigration into this country from Mexico helps them in many ways.  He suggested that this would be – he kept calling it migration – that the phenomenon was that people would come into the United States, they would work for a while, period of time, get skills, come back to Mexico.  And I said, well, now, if that’s the case then certainly you are going to help us in trying to stop any sort of amnesty that the United States might be moving forward with for Mexican nationals living illegally in the United States, if what you’re hoping for is this circularity in that – oh, no, he said, absolutely not; we totally support amnesty.  Well, interesting again.  I mean, how do you – and I said to him, do you really believe that if we confer amnesty and essentially put people on the road to citizenship in the United States who are here illegally, they’re coming back?  Do you really believe they’re coming back – (chuckles) – to Mexico?

Well, no, and he doesn’t care.  And the reason he doesn’t care is because they will continue to pressure the United States government in terms of the way we relate to Mexico.  So it is really a very brilliant move, very interesting.  And again, he was the most candid individual with whom I ever had a discussion down there.  And so, the matricula is part of it, but on a broader scale – I mean, that’s just Mexico.

Now, by the way, Marti mentioned five other countries that were either in the process of giving out the matricula to their illegals in the United States or in some way developing the cards to use for that purpose.  I had – I’m sorry I didn’t bring it with me, but I have a memo from the – that we obtained from somebody inside the State Department.  It was a memo from our embassy in Managua, dated I think May 20th, somewhere around there, maybe a little bit earlier, in which the embassy was asking for direction from the State Department here as to how they should go about helping the Nicaraguan government develop their matricula consular and saying, you know, because here’s the situation, they said – by the way, the government of Nicaragua does not want it to have anything to do – it cannot have anything to do with their legal status in the country.  Status does not matter.  And of course there’s this problem – there is this little problem with calling it verifiable when down here in Nicaragua, he said, the only requirement for someone who is trying to prove their identity is to bring two people in who say, yeah, this guy is who he says he is.  But these things aside, how can we help get this done?

We are preparing a – in fact, I think I have signed off on our letter to Secretary of State Powell this morning before I came here, asking him for an explanation of this memo.  But our government – you know, it is one thing to talk about the fact that Mexico sees what advantage is has for them to do this.  It’s another thing for our government to aid and abet them in this process.  You know, I can understand why Mexico wants to do it; I cannot understand – well, I don’t want to believe – (chuckles) – why our government says, yeah, this is an okay thing; we’ll wink at this, pretend that – you know, we’ll say, oh, gosh, handing out matricula cards and getting local communities to accept them? – gee, we don’t think that might not be right.

Well, we know of a document that was produced by Homeland Defense about this issue.  I saw it, I know Rosemary saw it – Rosemary Jenks, sitting over there from Numbers USA – in my office.  It was a draft of a position – it was a position paper, a draft of a position paper that Homeland Defense came up with, saying that no agency of the federal government should take this card; that there are inherent problems that are security risks.  Well, that document went on to the, quote “working group” of all the various agencies.  The two agencies that have opposed it and are presently opposing it – it’s in the White House right now, ready to be signed by the president, but it probably won’t look like that Homeland Defense document we saw, when it’s signed, because State and Treasury are fighting like crazy to stop the president from actually issuing an executive order to all federal agencies to stop them from accepting the matricula consular as a form of ID.

The Treasury Department, in league with the banks, the State Department – because, you know, they have their own view of the world and how it should be run and constructed, and they have an awful lot of clout, and then you add that to the fact that there are political people in the White House who are also looking at this thinking, gee, this would be kind of embarrassing if we actually restricted it.  On the other hand, boy, some people are going to go crazy about this.  So they’re on the horns of a dilemma, but I have no doubt that we will soon see something out of the White House and we probably won’t like it.

And this is a disconcerting thing from a variety of standpoints.  And as I say, there is a big-picture issue that I really try my best to get people to focus on beyond the matricula, beyond all the rest of that, is this is an assault on the whole concept of citizenship.  Please understand that all of these things we’re talking about, they are all simply tactics designed to achieve a goal.  And, I mean, not that everybody that’s involved knows it and is conspiratorially meeting at night in some basement trying to do this, but I’m telling you that the end result of all of this will be to essentially kill the concept of citizenship.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Thank you.  I’ll just offer a few short comments and then we’ll take questions from you all.  I actually wanted to amplify the congressman’s comments about how matricula is really part of a broader assault on citizenship.  The way I think about it, at least specifically in the Mexican context, is that it is – I’m just putting, I guess, the same thing in a different way – it’s a challenge by Mexico to American sovereignty.  Now, this is not the black helicopter fantasy of ReConquista and, you know, Texas is going to go back to Mexico.  I mean, if things continue as they are, our children may see something like that, but right now that’s not what we’re seeing.  What we’re seeing is, I think, actually a quite conscious effort to establish a condominium, a kind of shared or joint sovereignty over a large part of the United States population, shared by the United States government and the Mexican government.

The analogy I draw to this, just to raise the issue, is really similar to the role that Russia and other great powers play with regard to Christians and the Ottoman Empire.  This is a significant – an effort at significantly restricting American sovereignty over our own territory and our own population.  And there are a bunch of aspects to that, consulates for instance.  Mexico has either 48 or 65 consulates in the United States; I have not been able to figure out which it is.  But it doesn’t matter; Mexico has more consulates in the United States than any country has in any other country in the world, and they are becoming active players in domestic American politics.

As Marti talked about, they’re involved in lobbying for the matricula card.  I mean, literally, consular officials will go on circuit rides and visit the sheriff in a little county and country supervisors and city councilmen.  They’ve lobbied actively on in-state tuition.  Congressman Tancredo was at the receiving end of some of that.  They’ve orchestrated news stories, sympathetic news stories for illegal aliens who couldn’t get discounted tuition to state universities.  They’ve lobbied on drivers licenses – in other words, giving illegal aliens access to drivers licenses.  In effect, those efforts are to get involved in immigration policy, essentially making immigration policy without the voting, that the congressman just complained about.

But it doesn’t stop just at immigration policymaking.  Consulates are very active, for instance, in other areas.  There was a story just a couple days ago about this new Labor Department program to attempt to offer safety training to illegal alien workers.  And this is a federally funded program which would be based in Mexican consulates to train illegal aliens from Mexico on how to conduct their work in construction sites and elsewhere more safely.  I would suggest this is a kind of blurring between the proper functions of the United States government and the Mexican government.

One aspect of this consular challenge to American sovereignty grows out of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.  And what it requires is that a citizen of one member country, one signatory country, who is arrested in another signatory country, has to be notified of his right to contact his own consulate.  It’s a perfectly commonsense measure.  I think of it as the “midnight express” provision, so that if an American is arrested in Turkey or elsewhere with a joint in his pocket, he will – at least people outside will know that it’s happening.  It’s an essential component of international relations.

The problem, of course, is that when you have a massive imbalance in the number of people from one country and the other – in other words, there are probably nine or 10 million Mexican-born people in the United States; maybe a couple hundred thousand U.S.-born people, retirees and some workers, living in Mexico.  It becomes a wedge for real mischief, and in fact there is an ongoing effort to turn this requirement for consular notification into a kind of super-Miranda Warning.  It hasn’t gotten there yet, but there have been active efforts and, you know, given the history of the past 35 years in the courts, probably ultimately successful if nothing changes, to make that notification of consular – consular notification a required part of police work, at which point, in effect, the Mexican consulates become active day-to-day partners in local and state law enforcement.

And the third thing I wanted to touch on was dual nationality, or dual citizenship.  Mexico, in 1997, permitted dual nationality and has registered an unreported number of people who became U.S. citizens, renounced all allegiances to princes and potentates that they had at one point been loyal to but have re-registered essentially as Mexican nationals.  But it applies not only to those who were born in Mexico but even to those American-born people – native-born U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry, perhaps to 20 million or more people – and is going to be combined, almost certainly, with absentee voting; in other words, Mexicans outside Mexico being able to vote in elections, which they’re now not permitted to do, at which point it becomes an essentially formal dual citizenship.

And I just wanted to finish with pointing out that Mexico really is just – I think the Congressman alluded to this, too – it’s really just the vanguard of this assault on U.S. sovereignty.  For instance, one of the things that caught Dimitri’s eye that caused us to think about putting this event – this particular event together, was that Montgomery County recently approved the Mexican matricula consular as an official document in the county.  But they didn’t approve just Mexico’s matricula consular; they also approved Guatemala’s matricula consular in that decision.

So this is something that is metastasizing.  The Nicaraguans are now asking us how to do a matricula consular.  Pakistan and Egypt will be next.  I mean, there is simply no reason – in fact, the foreign minister of Mexico, at a meeting of other Latin American government officials, recently said that he’s essentially – that he explicitly said he’s the vanguard of this effort and that the United States will not be able to discriminate against other countries seeking their own matricula consular, so that Mexico’s role there is explicit, and they understand it.  Likewise with dual citizenship.  Virtually every sending country of immigrants to the United States permits dual citizenship now, with the exception of Red China, and something like 85, 90 percent, at least, of immigrants to the United States are potential dual citizens.

And I just wanted to finish with really pointing to the matricula as a kind of bellwether of future problems for the United States, and problems that are better addressed sooner, in my opinion, rather than later.

I’d be happy to take questions, or Marti.

MR. SIMES:  Well, let me ask just one question.  Can this document serve any legitimate purpose in the United States for those who are here illegally?

MR. KRIKORIAN:  No.  I mean, because a person who is legally in the United States, obviously whether he’s a U.S. citizen but even a Green Card holder, a foreign student, a business traveler, whatever, by definition has a U.S government document.  In other words, having a U.S. government document is the only way, in a sense, you can be legally present in the U.S. because you either have a Green Card – you have an employment authorization document, you have a machine readable visa inserted into your passport.  So there is no purpose to this document within the United States other – no one needs it other than illegal aliens.

MR. SIMES:  So, anyone who is showing this document, in other words, is making an announcement that he or she is a lawbreaker.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Yes, for all intents and purposes, yes.

Marti, did you –

MS. DINERSTEIN:  Well, I just wanted to say that there is sort of a humanitarian reason for it and why simply carrying a matricula, if it had no benefits attached to it, is not a bad thing.  A lot of illegals that come to the United States understand very clearly that they’re repeat border crossers, and they do not want, in their own name, sort of to have this criminal record.  So they leave all of their documentation behind with their families and they come initially as undocumented people and then unfortunately they become over-documented by getting fraudulent documents here.  It’s their concern, especially after 9/11, which spooked a lot of them just as it spooked a lot of us, that they may be in an accident or something like that and they’re not going to have any real name on them; there’s no way to identify themselves to their families and things like that.  So for that small reason – I mean, it’s not small to them, but that is a legitimate use, and the traditional use, of a consular card.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Well, the fact remains that it has nothing to do with the United States government one way or the other.

MS. DINERSTEIN:  It has nothing to do with the U.S.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Yes, sir.  If you could identify yourself --

Q:  My name is Jason Watson.

Q:  Following up on what he just said, if there is no – (inaudible) – reason to carry these cards other than – (inaudible) – why is it not used by our law enforcement as a card that says, pick me up, I’ve broken the law?  They self-identify themselves as criminals.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Well, because the law enforcement agencies across the country, hundreds and hundreds of them, have formally decided that they will accept the card as legitimate ID and not inquire further.  Yes, I agree, it should –

Q:  Congress makes laws which knock out all local laws.


Q:  It would seem to me – unfortunately the congressman had to leave; I’m sure it’s nothing he hasn’t thought of.  It would seem to me a very simple mechanism to pass a law that says we don’t accept it and in fact when we see it we’ll arrest the carrier; it’s an illegal document.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  There are a lot of steps between where we are now and there, and it’s – I mean, I agree, yes, it is in effect an advertisement saying, I am an illegal alien; please deport me, but we have to interpret it as such and our institutions simply have not been doing that.

Q:  But the way to short circuit it would be simply to have a federal law –

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Yes – well, potentially, I don’t know.  That’s a good question because there’s legislation that’s pending – well, there are a couple of pieces, but one of them would prohibit its use for federal purposes; in other words, entering federal buildings, collecting federal benefits, what have you.  And, Rosemary, correct me if I’m wrong here, but the states have authority over this for their own purposes.

ROSEMARY JENKS:  States do have authority, but the federal legislation –Congressman Tancredo’s legislation also recommends that states follow the same example and do not accept it.  But there’s also soon-to-be legislation that will go the next step and not only say don’t accept the matricula consular, but state and local law enforcement have to help enforce immigration laws, which they should be doing anyway.  I mean, it’s a couple of steps that have to happen, but it is helpfully important.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Okay.  Yes, identify yourself.

Q:  I’m Alan Tonelson with the U.S. Business and Industry Council.  One quick comment and then one question.  The comment is that this continuing Mexican push to send more workers into this country is the clearest possible signal that the strategy that this country has adopted to deal with Mexico, whose centerpiece is of course NAFTA, has been a spectacular failure and needs to be dramatically reformed or else this Mexican immigrant push will never, ever stop. 

My question is more – one of the opening points you raised seemed a little bit unusual to me when you mentioned that Mexico has been explicitly setting itself up as the vanguard for wider national use of this matricula type program.  I would think that, given the absolute centrality of continued expanded legal and documented immigration from Mexico is the U.S. and Mexico’s economic development policy, they would want to reserve as much of the American legal market for their own citizens as they possibly could.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  I have no idea what the thinking was.  I know, though, that Foreign Minister Derbez, just a few weeks ago, somewhere in South America, at an intergovernmental gathering, was reported specifically as having said this, that we are paving the way for you all and the U.S. government will be unable to say that your matriculas can’t be accepted since now they’ve accepted ours.

MS. DINERSTEIN:  I’d say two things on that.  I think probably the reason that they’re doing that is to take some of the political heat off of themselves right now; that with other governments doing it, they’re not going to be the target.

I also would say that Mexico has – Mexico didn’t initially know, apparently, that to the United States, especially people hiring sort of temporary workers here – day laborers, things like that – that what the people that were hiring them cared about was that they were willing to work for a very cheap wage, and they did not care whether they were from Mexico or Nicaragua or El Salvador, et cetera, it was just that they had strong backs and were willing to take little money.

The Mexicans were sort of horrified to hear this, apparently.  They really did think that Americans had this special affiliation in terms of Mexican labor, et cetera, and after they realized that, they initiated some very draconian measures on their own southern border, and they don’t tolerate anybody illegally in Mexico; they quickly ship them out.  So this is, you know, just another interesting point.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Anyone else?

Q:  Jim Magruder from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.  An issue that we see running in tandem with the matricula in the drivers license community is the IRS individual tax identification number.  And many states have introduced legislation to accept both the matricula and the IRS ITIN.  One, have you looked at the ITIN much as a part of this overall examination with illegals getting an entry into the United States to get documentation here; and two, if the matricula falls out of favor, becomes less of a viable document, do you see them shifting that emphasis on the ITIN?

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Funny you should mention that because Marti wrote a paper for us on that subject.

MS. DINERSTEIN:  Yeah, I wrote like a 6,000 or 7,000-word paper.  It can bore you to death, but it is very comprehensive.  Just for those in the room who don’t know this, a number of years ago, in 1996, the IRS was having a problem with tax compliance for people that lived abroad that owned U.S. securities and owed the U.S interest income, et cetera, on these securities.  And they thought that if they issued them a specific tax number and sort of made it a little bit more official, that they would get better compliance.

Somehow that morphed into having then to think in terms of foreigners that were living here that were not eligible for Social Security numbers, and were they then – if they were working here, were they eligible for – would they – should they be given one of these numbers in an effort to get them to pay taxes?  And somebody said earlier, you talk about, you know, short-sighted things.  The IRS decided, yes, that they would issue something that’s called an individual taxpayer identification number, an ITIN, to illegal immigrants, hoping that they would pay taxes.

Fast forward to 2003.  It’s very easy to get these documents.  Basically all you have to do is fill – if you get someone else – if you don’t write English or something like that, someone else, a so-called acceptance agent, people that the IRS has designated to help foreign-born individuals here fill out these forms – if you did it and sent it in to the IRS, you get this number back in the mail.  It is not authenticated in any way.  You have got to present some documents.  They’re supposed to be either the originals or certified copies, et cetera, to be able to get it, but the IRS is not in the business of authenticating documents; they’re in the business of collecting taxes.

So we’re in a situation now where more than five million of these ITINs have been issued in the last few years.  Only 1.5 million of the numbers have been used in any way to pay taxes, and so what has happened to the other 3.5 million numbers?  And the answer is that they are being used for identification in the United States.  Immigrant advocates of all persuasions have found out about these numbers and they have been very adept at going around – the problem is most acute, in my judgment, with respect to motor vehicle departments – and saying, this is an official U.S. tax number – that’s right, it is an official U.S. tax number – we want you to accept this as well as a Social Security number when issuing a drivers license.  Most states, the laws are that you have to have a Social Security number, and they want this to be acceptable as well.  It’s a very pernicious thing.   

When I was starting to write my paper–and they didn’t even know I was going to write a negative one–it was very difficult for me to get anybody from IRS to talk to me.  I happened to be lucky enough, actually, to be speaking at an AAMVA event a couple of months ago, and the IRS sent a representative and he said essentially the same thing I just did: we are very concerned about these missing millions of numbers and what’s going on.  They have a task force – the IRS has a task force that’s working on this, so I know they’re concerned and I know they have a taskforce.  It is the deepest cover thing; I simply cannot get any information no matter how many routes I’ve tried.  And that’s the situation that we have.

And also, the Treasury Department, the same Treasury Department that, in its response to Congress on the Patriot Act, said it was okay to accept a Mexican matricula, said it was not okay to accept an ITIN because the Treasury Department itself said it’s an unverified document.  So why this is permitted to continue I have no idea.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  The interesting thing is – if I could just add a brief point to that – this is really indicative of how our immigration enforcement policy has evolved and put firewalls between immigration authorities in every other aspect of the government.  I mean, there is no reason that the IRS, for instance, and the Social Security Administration shouldn’t be actively working with the Immigration Service to determine who has fake Social Security numbers, who’s likely to be an illegal worker, who is paying taxes using an ITIN and is based in the United States.  I mean, there is a lot of – there are a whole variety of ways that it seems to me that the tax authorities and the Social Security Administration could be adjuncts of immigration enforcement but are prohibited by law, for the most part, or a policy in many cases –

MS. DINERSTEIN:  Regulation.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  -- regulation, from doing so.  And this is really – this is an indication of that.


Q:  I’m Eric Larson from the General Accounting Office. A lot of what Marti has been saying is pretty familiar.  We’ve been working on this issue for a while, and not just people in my group but other teams at GAO.  And, yeah, the IRS is trying to do something and the SSA is trying to do something, but they’re not really – (inaudible).  My question is a broad one for both Dimitri and Mark, which is, have you folks considered doing or commissioning more studies on what illegal immigration is costing the United States?  (Inaudible.)  In all the stuff that’s been talked about today, nobody’s really talked about, what does this cost us as a country?  There’s just no question about – I wonder if either of you gentlemen would consider commissioning more studies, doing more research on the costs.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  If you have any ideas of who could do it, let me know, Eric.  But the answer is, yes, there’s been a lot of work done on that.  We’ve done some of it; other people have done it.  I think it reached – maybe I’m wrong here but I think it reached the point of sterility where there were dueling cost studies.  You know, do you count the children, the American-born children of immigrants, or don’t you?  And everybody made up their own assumptions in order to come to the conclusions they wanted to.

 The National Research Council did a report about six years ago that was kind of the magisterial look at this issue of costs, and if the costs were huge and –in 1997.  My point is not that that’s – I mean, that obviously is out of date, but the costs are huge and I’m not sure how much we need to know beyond the fact that the costs are huge in order to affect policy.

MR. SIMES:  Well, I completely agree.  I think that we need more studies, but this is not the principal problem, that we don’t have factual base.  Worker (visitation ?) runs a very powerful (lobby ?) who want to change American citizenship situation and indeed the fundamental structure of this country, and there is a silent majority which was not yet activated, and does not quite know how to express itself.  Well, the genius of President Nixon at a certain point was that he knew how to energize the silent majority.  It was less a genius of his that by activating the silent majority he also activated so much a not-so-silent minority – (laughter) – that he was driven out of his office, not that he did not contribute to it himself.

But the point is it’s clearly a very difficult and a very sensitive issue, and that’s why Mark, with the Nixon Center, we want to work together and we want to start building a broad coalition.  And I think that we have a historic opportunity, a tragic opportunity in a certain sense because of our tax situation, because it is one thing, for instance, when in Montgomery County you have an enormous surplus and it seems that everything is available, and it’s another thing when they’re cutting school budgets, police budgets, and yet want to make the Montgomery County, if you wish, more hospitable to illegal immigrants, with all associated costs.  And I think we have to start talking to people who are concerned about taxes, people who are concerned about security, people who are concerned about citizenship.  We have to start building a new coalition.

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Well, that was a good place to wrap – oh, okay.

Q:  I just wanted to ask one quick follow-up to what both of you gentlemen have said.  I’ll just use a current example, something we’re looking at, which is the cost to the states of educating illegal immigrant schoolchildren.  Well, if you go the states and ask them what they’re paying, they really don’t know.  They don’t really exhibit much motivation on how to find out because they have to pay for them anyway.  And their law firms tell them, you can’t ask about illegal immigration status because – (inaudible) – you can’t do that.  On the other hand, you know their costs are huge.  A 2000 estimate by – (inaudible) – the number of undocumented/illegal alien schoolchildren at about 1.5 million in the year 2000.  And just round up some numbers, and is the average cost $5,000 per student, or is it $10,000 per student?  Say it’s, you know, $7.5 million: $15 billion a year.  I mean, I understand that that’s – and you say we don’t have any reason to do any studies because we know it costs that much and more, but what I’m trying to get at is this motivation thing.

MR. SIMES:  No, I did not mean to say that we don’t need to do any studies.  I completely agree that we need to do more studies.  What I tried to say is that studies alone would not resolve it.  It’s not like people do not understand that this is terribly expensive.  It is that so far, I think, you had different groups looking at the immigration in a kind of very fragmented way.  And we are not as effective in talking to each other and working together as those for whom promoting illegal immigration, if you wish, is – (unintelligible).

MR. KRIKORIAN:  Well, let’s wrap it up there.  Feel free to come and ask us questions afterwards.  On behalf of the Nixon Center and the Center for Immigration Studies, I want to thank all of you.  The Center, at it’s website,, will have a transcript of the whole discussion, and is the Nixon Center’s website.  They’ll have a report, I think, at some point -- and hopefully some attractive photographs of us – of the event.  Thanks for coming and we’ll hope to see you at our next event.