Your Papers, Please

New frontiers in decentralization.


When talk turns to devolving the functions of government from Washington to the local level, the conversation usually centers around education, transportation, health care, and the like. But immigration policy?

While the U.S. and Mexico crawl slowly toward an immigration treaty that will pass muster in Washington, many American communities have rushed ahead, agreeing to accept cards called matrículas, issued by Mexican consulates to Mexican citizens, as legitimate IDs. According to The Arizona Republic, the cards have "allowed thousands of undocumented immigrants to live quasi-normal lives. They can now open bank accounts, check out books at public libraries and even face officers without fear of deportation."

At last count, 66 banks and 801 police departments in the United States accept the matrículas. The practice is spreading from the Southwest to other parts of the country: In April the SunTrust banking chain announced that it would accept the cards at branches across the Southeast. Thus far, the INS has tolerated the phenomenon, recognizing that most matrícula-bearing Mexicans are probably illegal but also acknowledging that the possession of such a card is not itself grounds for arrest.

In September, Guatemala began issuing the IDs as well, and other Latin American countries are considering matrícula programs of their own. And the federal immigration treaty between the U.S. and Mexico? There's no indication that it will be signed anytime soon.