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MEXICO: Mexican "Consular cards"

I have received another long message from Raśl Escalante of Mexico defending Mexican "consular cards" against criticism of them in the US. Tim Brown comments: "As a matter of its sovereignty, each country decides who is and who is not a citizen, legal resident, refugee, or illegal resident, and then documents (or does not document)- them in accord with its own laws. How one country does so usually differs from how others do it. In the US, passports, Social Security Cards, Alien Registration Cards, Selective Service Registration Cards are the key ones issued by the Federal Government. Each local jurisdiction also issues various documents, driver's licenses, birth, marriage and death certificates being the most common. A birth certificate issued by a local US government is proof of citizenship by birth. A Certificate of Naturalization issued by the Federal Government is evidence of citizenship by that process. When or whether any of these documents is accepted as a identity document in any given instance is then decided on the spot by whoever is being asked to accept it, either in accord with some legal, regulatory or other criteria, or sometimes merely by whim.

We do not have a national ID card, which is contrary to the norm. Everywhere I served there was a national ID card or document you were legally required to keep on your person and present every time you performed a transaction with a government or even private entity. Those you showed it to were legally expected or required to honor it. My family and I were issued diplomatic variations on this that were proof of legal status and a the preferred form of identity document, although passports also usually worked without a problem.

Mexico is absolutely free to issue ID cards to its citizens anywhere, including in other countries, as a matter of its sovereign prerogatives. And it can do so based solely on a determination of Mexican citizenship. In fact, it does not and cannot, competently determine the legal status of its citizen in the country where it issues a document. In the case of the USA, it is not for a Mexican Consul to determine, or even ask, whether or not an applicant is legally here. That is the sovereign prerogative of the US authorities only.

America Consuls do exactly the same thing overseas. While unusual, Americans do occasionally live in other countries illegally. But even when a Consul knows someone is in another country living or working illegally ( as I did in some cases, such as American students working in France for the summer without legal permission; Americans living indefinitely in Mexico and Costa Rica without legal resident status) that has no legal bearing on whether to issue or renew their passports or provide them with any other service. Not does a Consul normally denounce its own citizens to the local authorities in such instances. We even issue ID documents to non-US citizens. The best example is along the US-Mexico border, where we issue hundreds of thousands of Border Crossing Cards to Mexicans and then accept them as valid for entering the US, usually with, but sometimes without, an accompanying Mexican ID document.

Whether or not a national ID card, passport, Border Crossing Card, laissez passer, driver's license, Social Security or other card, or anything else is or is not accepted a valid proof of identity in any given instance is a determination made on the spot by the reviewer. The key is to train these reviewers to make informed determinations for the specific purpose for which they are accepting a document - to cash a check, board an airplane, get a driver's license or a job, apply for a Social Security card, or whatever. In the U.S. that is OUR job, not Mexico's. We are responsible for educating our own people as to what is and what is not acceptable and everyone, every business and every agency decides how best to do so. In countries where everyone is legally required to have a national ID card of some sort and these are a normal and fully recognized part of every day life, this is relatively simple. Here, since we have chosen not to have such a document, it's much more complicated. But that is by our choice, and we must live with the consequences".

RH: The concern of the US government is that officials are in fact not trained to assess every identity document, so the present trend is to be cautious. Tim touches on the very important fact that the US and the UK are perhaps the only countries where individuals are not required to carry an identity card. Civil liberties are invoked to justify this, but I would not feel that the requirement infringed on mine. Tim describes the situation as it is now. It would not surprise me if the Department of Homeland Security demanded changes.

Ronald Hilton - 2/8/03