By Louis Nevaer
New America Media
Mexico City When news came earlier this month that the immigration reform bill had died in the U.S. Senate, Mexico’s Foreign Relations Ministry didn’t blink an eye.
Regardless of the political whim of the U.S. legislature, Mexico and the U.S. are already intertwined. There are more Mexicans living in the U.S. than in any other nation, and conversely, this year, the one millionth American established permanent residence in Mexico. Mexico has more consular offices in the U.S. than in any other country in the world, and the U.S. has more diplomatic missions in Mexico than in any other country. Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, has close relatives living in the U.S., and George W. Bush has nieces and nephews who are half-Mexican.
These transnational first families reflect the ebb and flow of a human tide across borders that are themselves increasingly fluid. In recognition of this fluidity, Mexican consulates have for decades issued “matrículas consula-res,” ID cards that help Mexican citizens living in the U.S. provide a “government-issued” identification that allows them to do everything from open a bank account to purchase a home.
In the 1980s, as the number of undocumented Mexicans began to reach a critical mass, Mexican diplomats struggled with meeting the documentation needs of significant numbers of their countrymen living in the U.S. without passports or visas. Advocacy groups and churches began to lobby Mexican officials to issue an ID to help Mexicans living in the U.S.
This is how it began: Any Mexican citizen without a passport could begin the paperwork to secure a matrícula consular. Banks, school districts, police departments, local governments, and hospitals throughout the U.S. were delighted: an invisible population could authenticate its identity.
At the same time, Mexico itself was implementing state-of-the-art ID requirements for voter registration. These were designed to end election fraud. The Federal Elections Institute, or IFE, was established, and everyone in the country over the age of 18 now has to have a card issued by the IFE. It is a meticulous, if complicated, process.
To get an IFE card, one has to bring an original, certified birth certificate and a picture ID to the nearest IFE office, where officials examine the documents, take fingerprints and a photograph, all of which is electronically sent to Mexico City. Three weeks later, one has to appear again in person. Identification is verified by electronically matching fingerprints and biometrics. Only then is the card issued.
There are so many verifications built into the IFE ID system that identity theft is almost unheard of in Mexico. The European Union is studying the IFE procedures as it designs its own single ID for EU citizens.
A decision made by Mexico’s Foreign Ministry late last year decided that a matrícula consularis now valid ID in Mexico.
That decision redefines the nature of national identity in astonishing ways. Mexico has unilaterally established an ID valid in both the United States and Mexico. To understand the implications of what Mexico has done, contemplate this: a New Yorker who moves to California has only a month to turn in his or her New York driver’s license and secure a California license. It is unlawful to be a resident of two states at the same time.
To compare the tale of two IDs consider Lourdes Paz de Jimenez. Her government-issued consular ID states that she was born in Maravatio, Michoacan, Mexico and has her current address on Kidvale Avenue in Chicago. Mexico’s Foreign Ministry has now decreed that this ID is valid anywhere in Mexico as a “local” address. Ms. Jimenez de Paz, of Chicago, Illinois, can open a bank account, buy a house, start a business, or register her children at school anywhere in Mexico with that card as identification.
California won’t recognize a New York driver’s license, but Mexico now considers the almost 6 million Mexicans with matrículas consulares to be “local” residents of Mexico. Only Israel, which claims every Jewish person a citizen simply by requesting citizenship, is as bold in its ambition.
Mexico understands the undeniable forces of demographics and destiny: Today one out of 10 people living in the United States are Mexican citizens.
Whatever the U.S. Congress does or does not do in the future cannot change this new global reality. Lourdes Paz de Jimenez is now as much in Mexico walking the streets of Chicago as if she were strolling down a boulevard in downtown Mexico City. Armed with her matrícula consular she can move to Guadalajara with less red tape than she can to New York. Her single ID will go with her, establishing a transnational government-issued identification that only Mexicans who have lived in the United States can boast about.
What’s in your wallet?