Mexican officials make pitch for government ID cards

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(Host) Last week, the Mexican government held an unusual seminar for Vermont law enforcement officials.

Mexican officials hope that an ID card will bring some of Vermont’s undocumented farm workers out of the shadows.

VPR’s John Dillon has the story.

(Dillon) Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley invited the two Mexican consulate officials to the annual meeting of sheriffs and police chiefs from all over Vermont.

Hanley said about 30 law enforcement officials listened as the Mexicans made the pitch for their government ID cards.

(Hanley) “They expressed their concerns that undocumented Mexicans here might be reluctant to be witnesses. They might be reluctant to come forward with information that might be helpful to us in solving crimes. They might be reluctant to come to us to report that they’ve been victimized. And that is a primary concern of the consulate.”

(Dillon) About 2,000 undocumented Mexicans work on the state’s dairy farms. The Mexican government has issued the consular ID cards in Vermont and around the country for several years now. The card can be used in some cases to open a bank account. And consulate officials hope law enforcement will accept the card as proof that the person has a job and a local address. Chief Hanley says the consulate recently issued about 70 more cards to farm workers in Addison County.

(Hanley) “I think the card is a great idea. It’s got some wonderful security features on it, far better than we use here for things like driver’s licenses. It’s a pretty impressive card. I think it’s going to be pretty helpful to us if we have folks from Mexico here that need police services – that we’ll at least know who they are and that will serve as documentation.”

(Dillon) Public Safety Commissioner Kerry Sleeper, whose department oversees the state police, says the cards have only limited usefulness.

(Sleeper) “There may be some situations where local enforcement may choose to use the card and certainly that’s up to their discretion.”

(Dillon) But Sleeper says if a Mexican national is stopped for a traffic offense or if they are investigated for committing a crime, they still need to show proper ID, such as a passport or valid driver’s license.

(Sleeper) “The marketing behind this by the Mexican government is; accept this card at face value, accept that the person carrying this card is in this country legally’ when in fact the vast majority of persons who receive these cards are in this country illegally. So we’re not going to honor a misrepresentation. That simply isn’t appropriate for law enforcement to do. It’s a very, very slippery slope and we’re not about to start walking down that one.”

(Dillon) The Mexican consulate declined to comment for this story. And Brattleboro Police Chief John Martin says the card does not imply that the Mexicans are here legally.

(Martin) “Well it really doesn’t afford them any other status. The same rules obviously apply to what they need to do to come into the country and to work here and to stay here. This just provides a government identification, so that they can protect themselves from becoming a victim, may help us to identify them if they become a victim.”

(Dillon) Public Safety Commissioner Sleeper says the debate about the cards reflects the federal government’s failure to deal with immigration reform. He says Congress needs to move quickly on the issue.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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