ID card may help open doors for immigrants

Representatives of Mexican government issue matricula consular


Staff Writer

FONT size=9FREEHOLD — Teresa Gonzalez waited on line for hours at the First United Methodist Church on Oct. 23 with hundreds of other Mexican immigrants to get what most people take for granted — identification that would allow her to do something like open a bank account.

FONT size=9Gonzalez, 30, who was born in Mexico, held her 10-month-old daughter Mayra in her arms and did not complain about the wait. She said it was worth it.

FONT size=9In fact, none of the hundreds of people who had come to the church on West Main Street complained about the long lines. More than 500 Mexican immigrants waited at the church for a chance to secure a matricula consular, an official identification document issued by the Mexican government.

FONT size=9Representatives of the Mexican government came to the borough two weeks ago to offer Mexican nationals the opportunity to apply for the matricula consular.

FONT size=9The matricula consular is an official identification document that makes no mention of the bearer’s legal or illegal status in the United States. The card identifies a person as a Mexican national.

FONT size=9Within the past few years, some banks and other institutions have begun to accept the matricula consular as an official form of identification that helps the bearer obtain services that might not otherwise be available to him.

FONT size=9Officials from the Mexican Consulate in New York City came equipped with computers which allowed them to communicate directly with Mexico City.

FONT size=9Borough officials have estimated that several thousand Mexican nationals presently reside in the community.

FONT size=9The first step in the process of obtaining a matricular consular was for an applicant to obtain a paper ticket with a number on it. After obtaining the ticket, the applicant proceeded to a table where he presented his documents to Mexican officials and had them copied. More applications were handed out and photos were taken. After information that had been provided by the applicant was verified in Mexico, the individual was presented with a laminated matricula consular.

FONT size=9Possession of the matricular consular allows Mexican nationals to open a bank account in the United States, according to Rolando Santiago, who heads up the Amistad program at the First United Methodist Church. Santiago said that because many Mexican immigrants cannot open a bank account they carry their money with them. This has led to them being the victims of assault and theft.

FONT size=9The ability to open a bank account will provide a safe alternative for the immigrants and boost the American economy, he said.

FONT size=9People who were applying for the matricula consular had to provide official documentation from Mexico (i.e., a birth certificate, a current passport, military identification or a voter’s identification) in order to acquire the card.

FONT size=9According to Liliana Gallegos, from the consulate, the data from each applicant was entered into a computer and the information was sent to Mexico City, via New York City, for verification.

FONT size=9Santiago said he is pleased that Mexican officials came to issue the identification card.

FONT size=9“It moves us toward enfranchisement and will cut down on exploitive practices where people are getting false identification. This is an official document. It works for the people, not against them,” Santiago said.

FONT size=9Berenice Alexandra Hernandez, 19, and Esperanta Hernandez, 36, believe that having the matricula consular will make things a bit better for them in the United States. Raquel Valencia, 26, and Lorena Rodriguez, 27, who have lived in Freehold for several years, said they are looking forward to keeping their money in a safe place. The said the peace of mind was worth the $26 application processing fee that was required to obtain the matricula consular.

FONT size=9The Mexican Consulate’s visit to Freehold on Oct. 23 was the first time the matricula consular has been issued Monmouth County, according to Georgina Curiel, the consul from the Mexican government who directed the program.

FONT size=9People began lining up at the church at 7:30 a.m., according to Gavrielle Gemma of Casa Freehold, a 6-month-old organization that includes members of the Workers Committee of Day Laborers for Social Welfare and the Monmouth County Residents for Immigrants Rights as well as other volunteers.

FONT size=9Gemma lives in Keyport but spends a good deal of her time volunteering in Freehold with the Monmouth County Residents for Immigrants Rights.

FONT size=9“By 10 a.m. we already had 500 people here,” Gemma said, adding that the sponsors of the event had no idea the response would be so great.

FONT size=9Those seeking the matricula consular included young adults, as well as parents with infants and preschoolers on their arms or in carriages.

FONT size=9All came for what Alejandro Abarca called “a well-respected form of identification.” The matricula consular program was organized by Abarca, who directs Casa Freehold.

FONT size=9According to Mexican government officials, 300 people who came to apply for the card left with one. That is the maximum number that can be processed in one day. The remaining people were placed on a list and may be granted the card at a later date.

FONT size=9Abarca said the issuance of the matricula consular is significant.

FONT size=9“It shows us the respect we deserve as a community in the area,” he said, adding that the card means the Mexican community has the “full support” of the Mexican government, “especially after the difficult situation we have had here in Freehold.”

FONT size=9Abarca was referring to the closing of a day laborers’ muster zone on Throckmorton Street earlier this year. The muster zone was reopened after litigation against the borough was initiated on behalf of the people, mostly immigrants, who seek employment there.

FONT size=9Dr. Garfield Green, pastor of the First United Methodist Church, said, “We do this because we have been called to this mission. We must look out for those less fortunate.” The pastor said he is “willing to team up with any other church or organization that is willing to help.”

FONT size=9The First United Methodist Church hosts English as a Second Language classes and health programs geared for the Latino community. The programs are held by volunteers from Casa Freehold.

FONT size=9Municipal officials did not receive prior notice of the visit by the representatives of the Mexican government. Fliers describing the visit by the Mexican Consulate and written only in Spanish were distributed in the community in the week before the event.

FONT size=9Borough Council President Kevin Coyne said he worries that the issuance of the matricula consular to Mexican nationals will “create illusions on both sides of the immigration issue.”

FONT size=9“If the Mexican government wants to issue an ID card that’s fine, but it is up to our federal government to decide what that identification means,” Coyne said.

FONT size=9Coyne said the matricula consular does not change the status of an immigrant who is in the United States illegally to that of a legal resident.

FONT size=9“What worries me is the perception it creates. It is not just the fact that it’s using the back door to get legal status, but that it creates an illusion of legal status,” Coyne said. “It is not up to the Mexican government to decide legal status. It is not up to municipal or state government to decide. Only the federal government can decide.”

FONT size=9Councilmen Kevin Kane said the federal government must make a decision about the legal status of immigrants who have come to live and work in the United States.

FONT size=9“The federal government must decide if it wants this cheap labor force or not. If they want it, then they should put these people into the system. If they are going to take from the system, they need to put into it like everyone else. In my opinion this ID card doesn’t change a thing.”