One of the most sought-after items in Chicago these days is not a ticket to a sporting event or concert, it is an identification card issued to Mexican nationals by the Mexican consulate. People have been lining up outside the consulate hours before it opens, hoping to get a card. Now Mexican government officials are trying to make those lines shorter by sending consulate workers to Mexican communities. The Mexican government's mobile consulate was recently in the city of Joliet.
One recent morning, a classroom at a community building called The Spanish Center in Joliet was full of people who had already had their applications processed and pictures taken, and were waiting for their ID card: a matricula consular. Mexican consulate spokesman Teodoro Alonso says the government has issued these cards for years, but demand for them has soared in the last year. "Sometimes, particularly after September 11, there have been some preoccupations, worries in this country about foreign nationals," he said. "We think this is the best way to provide proof that they are Mexicans."
The Mexican government recently redesigned the cards to meet higher security standards. They now include a holographic seal and other features that make them difficult to copy.
An estimated three million Mexicans live in the United States without documentation. Many of them have jobs, but can not open bank accounts because they do not have proper identification. Spanish Center director Lois Nelson says many banks now accept the matriculas as valid identification. "There are a couple of banks, I know for sure that Banco Popular in the Chicago area and here in Joliet, First Midwest Bank, are allowing people to use the matricula as a document to open a savings and a checking account," he said.
Opening a bank account also gives Mexican nationals access to automated teller machine networks, and can make it easier and less expensive for relatives in Mexico to withdraw money from an account belonging to a relative in the United States. Mexican nationals send at least $8 billion a year from the U.S. back home.
Consulate spokesman Alonso says before September 11, the consulate in Chicago distributed about 300 cards a day. After that, they processed about 600. A decision by the Chicago City Council a few months ago pushed the demand for matriculas to 1,000 a day. "What made things a little more difficult was the approval by the city of Chicago and other cities in approving this document as an ID," said Teodoro Alonso.
Chicago joins San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas and several other communities in accepting the matriculas as a valid form of ID. This can protect Mexican nationals from being jailed for minor infractions if they were otherwise unable to prove their identity.
The demand for the cards in Joliet was so great that people were lining up in the early evening to have their applications processed the next morning. Ms. Nelson says the Spanish Center tried to keep people from waiting all night by passing out applications in the evening, and a number that reserved a spot on the next day's appointment list. "There was one gentleman, three nights in a row, he stood there but he was too far to the back of the line because he was coming after work," he said. "He did not get a number three days in a row. So he just stood out there today. Our numbers for today were passed out last night, but he just stood there and stood there and did not know what else to do except stand there."
The man's waiting paid off. Mid-morning, a woman arrived for her appointment with news that her husband did not need his reserved place in line. Ms. Nelson gave that reservation to the man who had tried for three days to make an appointment.