Hannah Gill: Durham and the Matricula Consular

We welcome a guest post from Hannah Gill, author of The Latino Migration Experience in North Carolina: New Roots in the Old North State, who updates us on recent political activity regarding the Latino immigrant community in Durham, North Carolina.–ellen

<br /> On November 15, 2010, Durham City adopted a resolution supporting recognition of the Matricula Consular card as a valid form of identification for the Durham Police Department .  This card is issued by the Mexican government through its consular offices to Mexican nationals living and working abroad. The card expands the forms of identification that police can accept from city residents. Because this card can be issued regardless of an individual’s immigration status, this new policy will provide police with more accurate identification of undocumented immigrants, who have been barred from obtaining legal drivers licenses in North Carolina since 2006. The card does not expand the rights of undocumented immigrants, who are still unable to register to vote, obtain Social Security numbers or work permits.

The matricula consular card features thirteen state-of-the-art security measures that include a hologram, a unique watermark, and markers only visible by using specialized equipment accessible to consulates and law enforcement agencies. To obtain the card, consular officials require originals and copies of a Mexican birth certificate or passport, a certified photo identification from Mexico such as a military id or a Mexican drivers license, and proof of residency in North Carolina. This level of security, on par with driver’s licenses and passports, is widely accepted throughout the US in more than 1200 police departments in 400 cities.

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez supported the resolution because of its potential for building trust and cooperation with Hispanic communities. His concerns are well-timed: even though the majority of Hispanics living in North Carolina are legally here, many fear contact with the police because of their track record using traffic stops and minor traffic infractions to arrest undocumented immigrants for eventual deportation (to see the numbers, visit http://isa.unc.edu/migration/287g_report_final.pdf ). This practice has grown over the past three years under the 287g program and is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in Alamance County.  Chief Lopez realizes how harmful it is to an entire community when a segment of the population avoids contact with police: crime is not reported, immigrants become easy targets for crime, and police have fewer witnesses in the courts. The Durham resolution stated:  “It is expected that the Durham Police Department’s acceptance of the Matricula Consular as a valid form of ID would assist the Durham Police Department in minimizing unnecessary and potentially life-changing arrests of hard-working residents guilty of no more than a minor traffic infraction.”

How can arrests be life-changing, and why should we all care, regardless of where our beliefs fall along the spectrum of immigration debates? You can learn more about what’s at stake for the individuals, families, and communities impacted by deportation in The Latino Migration Experience in North Carolina: New Roots in the Old North State.

Hannah Gill is assistant director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and research associate at the Center for Global Initiatives at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is author of Going to Carolina de Norte: Narrating Mexican Migrant Experiences. Read her previous guest post on the DREAM Act.