March 2, 2005

Survey of Mexican Migrants, Part One

X. The Matrícula Consular

A number of nations issue some form of identity document to their citizens who are living abroad through diplomatic missions. On March 6, 2002, Mexico began issuing a new form of the matrícula consular at its consulates in the United States. Formally know as the Matrícula Consular de Alta Seguridad or the High-Security Consular Registration Card, this new document features several of the anti-forgery features found commonly in photo ID cards issued by government agencies in the United States, such as embedded text and graphics, specials seals and ultraviolet logos. Some 2.8 million of the new cards had been issued as of February, 2005. As of July 2004 the Mexican Foreign Ministry said it had issued 2.2 million of the new cards and counted 377 cities, 163 counties and 33 states, as well as 1,180 police departments and 178 financial institutions as accepting the new matrícula as a valid form of photo ID (IME 2004). An August 2004 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded, “Federal agencies hold different and, in some cases, conflicting views on the usage and acceptance of CID [consular identity] cards, and no executive branch guidance is yet available.” (GAO 2004) Most notably, the Treasury Department issued a regulation in 2003 which, in effect, permits the use of matrículas to open bank accounts, while the FBI has warned that the cards can be obtained fraudulently and used to support false identities, according to the GAO report. As of January 2005, ten states accepted the matrícula consular as a form or photo ID for persons seeking a driver’s license, according to the National Immigration Law Center (NILC 2005). They are Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. An applicant for a matrícula consular must fulfill four basic requirements:

  1. Present proof of Mexican nationality with a document such as a birth certificate or similar document issued by the Mexican government.
  2. Present proof of identity with a Mexican or U.S. document such as an electoral ID or a driver’s license.
  3. Present proof of residence with a utility bill, a receipt for rent payments or another such document.
  4. Payment of a $26 fee.

The survey presented respondents with six possible uses for the matrícula consular and offered them the opportunity to write in others. Respondents were asked to mark all of the uses they contemplated. Use of the matrícula as an ID card in the United States was cited most often overall in the full sample, and use of the document to travel to Mexico was next. The responses differed significantly according to the amount of time the respondents had been in the United States. Nearly 8 in 10 (79%) of respondents in the country for five years or less mentioned an intention to use the card as an ID in the United States, versus fewer than 5 in 10 (45%) of those who had been in the country for 15 years or more. In contrast, those who had been in the country longest marked use of the card for travel to Mexico by a 2-to-1 margin (63% vs. 31%) over those more recently arrived. The act of applying for a matrícula consular is not evidence that an individual is an unauthorized migrant. However, a permanent legal immigrant who has established a domicile in the United States and has been in the country for an extended period of time has access to other forms of identification that are more widely accepted here. Under normal circumstances, such an individual should be in possession of a valid Mexican passport as well as a U.S.-issued document attesting to his or her immigration status, and that document can be used to acquire a Social Security card, a driver’s license or other forms of photo ID issued by government agencies in the United States. Non-immigrants, including tourists, students and temporary workers who are legally authorized to be in the United States for various lengths of time, normally must hold a valid Mexican passport with a U.S. visa affixed to it when they enter the country. They are then typically issued a Form I-94, which notes how long they are permitted to stay and which they must surrender on departure. Individuals living legally in the United States for extended periods under non-immigrant status are a small share of the migrant flow from Mexico. According to a recent study by the Mexican government statistical agency (INEGI 2004), about 16 percent of the Mexicans who migrated permanently between 1997 and 2002 went to the United States with nonimmigrant papers. While such individuals may enter the country legally, many become illegal residents by staying longer than authorized. In the Survey of Mexican Migrants, 90 percent of the respondents said they had been in the country for a year or more, which is beyond the expiration time of most non-immigrant visas. Non-immigrants who overstay the terms of their original authorization join a migrant flow that is mostly unauthorized to start with. The same study by the Mexican government statistical agency estimated that 73 percent of recent migrants had no U.S. documents of any kind when they set off to live in the United States and another 8 percent came to reside with tourist visas which only permit short-term stays. Studies based on U.S. Census Bureau data estimate that 80 percent to 85 percent of the migrants who have come from Mexico to reside in the United States since the mid-1990s have added to the stock of the unauthorized population, either because they entered the country illegally or because they overstayed visas (Passel 2004; Bean, VanHook and Woodrow- Lafield, 2001).