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Durham's matricula consular debate: how an identity card accepted by cities everywhere becomes a front in the culture wars

I've been watching with a certain interest the brewing debate over the proposal that Durham accept matricula consular document as a form of identification for Mexican nationals, a subject that'll be front and center on the City Council business agenda tonight.

The debate has played out in the public sphere exactly as you would expect, in our current messed-up political haze. With hyperbole, that is, and plenty of email circulars and blog-blasts.

Not, mind you, that Durham would be the very first city anywhere, anytime, to accept these documents, as some have suggested. For years, cities like Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco and Dallas (and more than 1,200 police departments) have accepted the cards, created by the Mexican consulate as a form of identity for their country's nationals living and working outside the US. 

And it's accepted by the IRS for issuing individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs), not to mention schools (for enrollment purposes) and banks and credit unions. Heck, Carrboro passed a resolution similar to Durham's in 2002.

Of course, the whole matter has become a firestorm of controversy in today's political climate, where immigration is a hot-button issue for a newly enlivened right -- and an issue that draws sympathetic ears from those looking to understand the middle class' economic malaise.

Tonight's City Council discussion of the matter is likely to see a high level of interest from those on both sides of the issue, as well as from those from many different parts of North Carolina, as for one night at least Durham will become a battleground on immigration.

That doesn't seem to be why Durham leaders brought the idea up in the first place, mind you. And it's the disconnect between the reality and the politics of this situation that is so, frankly, depressing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

To understand the debate, we need to talk about exactly what a matricula consular is. But first, let's talk for a moment about what any ID card is and is not.

In the world of information technology where I earn my living, there's a long-held and deep seated understanding that in the realm of what's called "identity management," there are two very separate and distinct concepts: authentication and authorization, sometimes referred to as authN and authZ.

Authentication is simply a matter of asserting who you are with credentials that can be trusted, while authorization is a trusted record of what resources, services, access or whathaveyou that someone is entitled to receive.

SImply put: a government-issued photo ID card tells people who you are. It doesn't tell people what you're entitled to.

A driver's license, for instance, is a record you can use to identify or authenticate yourself. And it also authorizes you to drive a car -- but that's it.

Your NC driver's license is not proof of citizenship, for instance; that's what a passport is for.

Similarly, your license can be used by airport screeners to authenticate who you are and decide to let you through the security checkpoint. But are you allowed to fly or not? That authorization happens on the back-end, with databases screening your name, DOB and other variables against the no-fly list.

Your authentication gets you access to a public space, with the government asserting they trust that they know who you are. But if you're on the no-fly list, expect to get held up at screening or the gate as the government tries to decide if you should be authorized to board the plane.

In that vein, the matricula consular is strictly an authentication document, with the government of Mexico asserting that you are the person you say you are.

It doesn't authorize you to drive an automobile. It doesn't authorize you to collect government benefits. It doesn't authorize you to hold a job.

It does help you to open a bank account, but only inasmuch as financial institutions are really concerned with making sure they know who has access or ownership over funds, for reasons ranging from tax compliance to money laundering.

And the City Attorney's office says inasmuch the same thing in their background memo on the matricula consular matter, which originated with citizen groups:

After substantial consideration of the resolution and consultation with the Durham Police Department, this office is of the opinion that the attached resolution simply acknowledges, without codification, the present procedures of the Durham Police Department as it relates to personal identification and in particular the consideration of a valid Matricula Consular. The resolution as written does not give a valid Matricula Consular a status equal to a valid North Carolina driver’s license nor will it prevent the lawful arrest of an individual under circumstances in which an arrest is appropriate. It simply acknowledges a valid Matricula Consular as a document that will suffice to identify an individual in a situation where an individual’s identity becomes relevant. The operations of the Durham Police Department will not be impacted by the presence or acceptance of a valid Matricula Consular for the limited purposes of personal identification. Furthermore, the discretion of the officer to make an arrest under appropriate circumstances is in no way impeded by the presence of a valid Matricula Consular.

From strictly this perspective, this doesn't seem that controversial.

After all, Durham has in recent years seen a rash of crime targeting presumed undocumented immigrants, whose believed propensity to carry around cash rather than using local banks has been asserted by the Durham P.D. to make them targets for robberies.

And police are often stymied when trying to identify just who a non-citizen is, whether in the investigation of a crime or during a traffic stop.

Of course, a matricula wouldn't convey driving privileges; but it's reasonable to see the benefit to the DPD by their use of the document to at least have a firm sense of the identity of the person before them.

And that's exactly what pro-immigrant groups are asking for here, since driver's licenses now require a Social Security Number, with the ITIN previously used by many immigrants to get licenses no longer accepted in the state for driver's licenses.

That opens illegal immigrants to arrest if found driving with neither a license nor a form of identification; with a resolution supporting the matricula consular as a form of legal identification, officers could still choose to arrest but would also have the door open to merely citing the person for driving without a license.

And the Durham P.D. has already been accepting matricula consular documents for this very purpose; this resolution simply makes that the official position of the city.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

To those opposed to the presence of immigrants from Mexico living and working in the US without going through legal channels, though, it represents another crack in the armor of what they perceive as citizens' rights and liberties.

A web site called NC Freedom -- "providing news and opinion for North Carolina Patriots," the masthead says -- republished a conservative's broadside against the measure, one that uses militaristic terms to describe the debate.

Troops were dispatched on 02 Nov 2010 to assess damage in Washington D.C. with the mission being counter insurgency and overthrow of the current socialist regime.

The North Carolina capital city of Raleigh fell in 2008 when Real ID was repudiated by the North Carolina House (HB 2136). Enemy infiltrators posing as Democrat legislators ignored a bill that would have prohibited the use of Mexican consular cards to obtain or renew a driver’s license (HB 1399). With this accomplishment, the socialist progressive mission to occupy and control North Carolina citizens advanced into the voting booth of each and every district in North Carolina.

Raleigh has been under enemy occupation for a century. The Mexican Embassy Consulate set up headquarters at East 6 Forks Road Raleigh and has established over 80 documented statewide reconnaissance teams. Several local to Wake County are known as El Centro Hispano, Durham Bill of Rights Defense committee, and Durham Immigration Solidarity Committee. These teams are assisted by progressive infantry from the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), AmeriCorps, La Raza, ACORN and other insurgents.

(Remember what we said about hyperbole here? Y-e-a-h.)

Conservatives in the Durham theater of operation are currently under siege. The Durham police department has surrendered according to Deputy Police Chief Steve Mihaich. He reported the Durham Police Department accepts the [Mexican] Matricula Consular as it would “any other out of state identification.”

The enemy is currently surrounding the Durham City Council. The radical insurgent troop divisions launching pro-illegal immigration artillery have been identified as Durham Bill of Rights Defense committee, Durham Immigration Solidarity Committee, and El Centro Hispano. At least one city government infiltrator has been identified by the Durham News as Councilwoman Diane Cabotti. Her insider position is leading the charge of the El Centro Hispano. Heavy fire is anticipated on 15 Nov 2010 at 1900 hours as council members convene to surrender to insurgents demand for statutory use of enemy consular cards by Durham city agencies.

OK, let's be real. "The enemy" is currently "surrounding" the City Council?

We have a duly elected official as an "infiltrator?"

The police department has "surrendered?"

Surrendered against what? The DPD is following its mandate, to preserve law and order in the community and ensure the safety of citizens.

Immigration enforcement isn't part of that mandate. That's a federal responsibility.

Persons arrested for violent crimes or drug infractions? Well, Durham law enforcement officials work with a federal program to screen persons so arrested for immigration violations, and to work to handover such persons to federal officials in order to begin deportation procedures as needed.

Which is, it seems, exactly what their role should be.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Mind you, this isn't the first time that immigration has come up as an attempt to hit a political home run in the Bull City.

And one only needs to look back to 2007 to see how the debate went the last time that illegal immigration came up as a topic, when then-Council member Thomas Stith -- long-linked to the Art Pope foundation wing of conservatives in North Carolina -- tried to make it a campaign issue in his mayoral run.

Robocalls allegedly from the Stith campaign haranguing Durham for a 2003 resolution he claimed made Durham a "sanctuary city" for immigrants, despite Stith himself having seconded the motion that he was suddenly criticizing.

At the end of the day, developer-backed Stith spent an enormous six-figure sum on his way to a drubbing by Bill Bell in the mayor's race, and faced an uproar at a Council meeting in the form of citizens largely opposed to his politicking on the point.

And we're not sure that much has changed in the city on the point since then.

Of course, none of this is to say that plenty of Durhamites aren't opposed to the measure. But certainly the numbers on this one are a bit fascinating.

As of 3pm on Saturday, one Council member tells BCR, emails coming in to Council inboxes were exactly spilt -- 126 for, 126 against.

Of those in favor of the resolution, 75 were Durham residents. Among those opposed to the resolution, 41 are Durhamites, and 85 aren't.

That's a 65%-35% ratio in favor among local residents, by this very unscientific polling.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

All of which goes to support the theory that what we're seeing here is another case of a Durham issue becoming a rallying point for a state-wide or national issue, not a really local one.

Opponents of immigration reform like those who wrote the faux-military treatise above aren't looking for grey areas or nuances. As the debate over immigration in Arizona showed, I suspect they'd love for cities like Durham to be using police forces to directly crack down on illegal immigrants and using all powers possible to find and arrest such persons simply for being in the country illegally.

Such is the rhetoric that surrounds discussions around trying to get county sheriffs to sign-on to being so-called "Oath Keepers," vowing to protect the Constitution by any means necessary and to disregard "unconstitutional" orders from the federal or state governments. (Talk to me later about the irony of people sworn to the idea of the Constitution deciding to usurp for themselves the role of the Supreme Court, but anyway.)

Yet in their anger, these advocates miss the larger point: most people in communities like Durham want the police to keep the community safe.

And safety isn't advanced by launching some local crackdown on immigration, such that those who are here illegally have to go underground and, perversely, become more likely to commit "hard" crimes -- robberies, thefts, etc. -- just to make it here.

I could be wrong, but I doubt most Durhamites really want our police going around busting in on residences to arrest illegal immigrants. Whether you like immigration or not, we're not made safer by local governments taking matters into their own hands.

We're made safer by reaching a national consensus on immigration -- something that the rhetoric over "illegals" makes nearly impossible.

Fixing that problem seems to me to be a national problem.

Accepting a form of identity so we know who's actually living here, whether they're authorized or not?

That seems like a very local decision, and appropriately so.


Milton Brasher-Cunningham

Great post. Thanks for going over the issue so thoughtfully.

Rodrigo "El Justiciero" Dorfman

Yes - very thorough and educational.

Please remember that lots of Latinos also use their local Credit Unions (not just banks) to manage their financial needs and that the The Latino Credit Union has been at the forefront of helping immigrants empower themselves through financial education. Check out this big article about our local Durham branch from the N&O:

Thanks for the post! And remember to open up the lexicon.

Tar Heelz

Good post. Thanks.

Question now is whether this ID is an accurate authenticator. (I have heard otherwise in the past, but I don't know.) Unfortunately, my guess is that your excellent point regarding authN and authZ will never appear in the public debate.


I'm not sure whether the NC Freedom quotes you cite make me want to laugh or cry. This kind of inflated, conspiratorial, revolutionary rhetoric is so beyond the pale . . . . and becoming increasingly common as its embraced and repeated by Tea Partiers and mainstream conservative & right-wing politicians and media. This is the kind of rhetoric that will eventually lead to violence. "Radical insurgent troop divisions" launching "assaults" on the Durham city council? Raleigh has been under "enemy occupation" for a century? I think we need another rally to restore sanity.

James M. (Wanna Be Durhamite)

What a REFRESHING read on a political issue! I wish EVERY political issue that gets the masses so 'up in arms' could be explained in this way. Let's bring that mountain (of misinformation and fear) back down to a mole hill (of understanding) and let's talk sensibly about it. I think if there's any 'enemy occupation' it is by those who reverberate fear and misinformation over issues such as this, without really considering the proc and cons of each decison aloud. Well Done!


Kind of reminds me of when the supposedly "law and order" NRA tries to loosen gun regulations, even against the advice of police chiefs nation-wide.

I think a lot of these "patriots" have been sitting inside watching "news" programs and eating cheeze doodles for too long, and have gone a bit bonkers as a result. Time for them to put down the remote control, get up off the couch, go outside and get some fresh air. Maybe even meet some actual people along the way... it does wonders for one's sense of humanity!


Great Read.

As a durham resident, My concern is with the efforts and procedures that the Mexican Consular has in place to confirm the authenticity of the person standing in front of them vs the information placed on the Matricular Consular Card. My other question is how is this different than a passport? Are the requirements less stringent? If they are less stringent, then I think that raises major red flags right there - and we should be concerned as a community.

Overall, I agree that the rhetoric is rather silly, when the issue is broken down to it's true intent - but i think as a community we should be concerned about allowing a document that is potentially less secure than a passport to identify individuals become a part of our daily lives.

Rob Gillespie

I think the matricula is carried because the thought of carrying one's passport with them at all times is a scary proposition. If you lose the passport, you can look forward to a long, drawn-out process in trying to get a new one.

Every foreign national I know keeps their passport locked in a safe at home (or, even in a safe deposit box at their bank). I know quite a few foreign nationals, most of them from Asia and all of them here legally on work or education visas, and none of them carry a passport. The cost of getting it stolen or lost are too high.

American citizens utilize a drivers license for day-to-day identification. These are easily faked as well. How many undergraduates, here in Durham and across the nation, have a fake ID proclaiming that they are 21? The matricula is at least as secure as a driver's license, and for identification purposes it should be treated as such (notice I said identification, possession of a matricula should not qualify one to drive a car).



The equivalent of this?

What does mexico require for identification from US Citizens?

I still have concerns about the lengths the mexican government goes to confirm the identity of individuals - and really think that until the US Gov't confirms the Matricular consular meets US ID Requirements, don't think we should have done this - But I think we know how the vote turned out last night now, lol - So not much i can do about it



The author is unfortunately ignorant about the security of the Matricula Consular card. It is not checked against E-Verify or any US criminal database and there is NO database in Mexico to check it against. Anyone can apply for the card and the information they provide is NOT checked.
The data on the card has a better than average chance of being false. Therefore, the argument that it will help Police identify who they stop is ridiculous.


When a police officer stops someone and they present a Matricula Consular card, it should immediately register to him/her that the person they stopped, is in this country illegally, because the only people that need a Matricula Consular card are illegals. Everyone who is in this country LEGALLY, already has the proper documentation, ie: a current passport, a current student visa, a current "green card" and these documents MUST be carried at all times, that is the LAW!

Kevin Davis

@NCFIRE: You know, I heard something amazing the other day. Teenagers -- teenagers! -- are forging these documents in order to look older and buy alcohol. And they look just like drivers licenses!  I am shocked that official documents can be forged.

Most conservatives detest the idea of any kind of national ID card in America, though that is common in every other country. Yet Mexico has a single national ID card for non-residents and we are worried it is not comprehensive enough?

As to the traffic stops: see the earlier point about the fact that police are not deporting illegal immigrants on sight. Yes, a matricula is a sign someone is not here legally. But I for one do not want Durham police deporting everyone they stop. That is not the kind of law and order I have signed up for in my community.

Tar Heelz

BCR wrote: "Yes, a matricula is a sign someone is not here legally. But I for one do not want Durham police deporting everyone they stop. That is not the kind of law and order I have signed up for in my community."

Aye, there's the rub.

This debate has nothing to do with AuthZ, AuthN, ease of carry, etc. Heck it has nothing to do with this ID at all.

1) Should we actively enforce existing immigration law?
2) Should violators of immigration laws be prosecuted (and potentially deported)?

If you answer "no" to either of those, you're probably fine with la matricula. Those who answer "yes" to both, will likely find the recognition of this ID offensive.

Seth Vidal

Thanks for this write up and thank you for using the terms AuthN and AuthZ in an article not about IT.


This is an issue the state legislature is going to have to decide, to override local politicians pandering to illegals by making it state law that a consular ID is NOT a form of ID that supplants the passport, visa, or student ID cards.

Durham police don't deport anyone. It is their responsibility to charge and/or detain people without proper ID, depending on the circumstances, and notify federal authorities if they suspect someone is here illegally. I sure hope those who are stopped driving a vehicle have a driver license, regardless of where they're from, and that no one is suggesting a consular ID should take place of it.


I think it's a cop out for these "legal" Americans...It's a way of "taking their country back". It's fear of being the minority...It's fear of being surrounded by people they choose not to care about because they're not like them...It's discrimination...I love it how they LOVE to use the word "Illegals" or "Aliens" to describe them. Love it!

I guess we all should leave this country since we are in fact all “illegal aliens”. And why are they so mad at the people for wanting a better life, like our ancestors did and fought for so that they and all of us can have it?

Who they should really be blaming is the companies that hire the undocumented workers so that they can pay them below value and not give them benefits...They wouldn’t be coming here illegally if they knew they could not get a job...They don't want to make it about that though...That’s the real ISSUE they don't want to see...No one likes outsourcing except the big money people who want to make an extra dollar without being taxed for’s a form of outsourcing that these businesses are running...I see it all the time even with these National real estate builders that hire undocumented so that they pay them under the table, no benefits, work them 7 days a week, and because they're undocumented, they can pull stunts like these because of the fear the worker will lose their job or get caught if they ever stood up or spoke up...They can just get rid of them if they can't work in the conditions and hire the next undocumented worker...So those of you worried about them "taking your jobs"...think about the businesses and the scam they run...they already take the jobs of the documented immigrants who went through the process...let's talk about the REAL issue of immigration...Not about the people and your disregard for their different faces, language, culture, or hard work.


I just don't understand. You say, "I suspect they'd love for cities like Durham to be using police forces to directly crack down on illegal immigrants and using all powers possible to find and arrest such persons simply for being in the country illegally." What would be wrong with Durham's officers, who are sworn to uphold the law, arresting someone for being here illegally if they find that out in the normal course of keeping the peace? If a person is here illegally then he is a lawbreaker, isn't he. I can't think of a law I am allowed to break. How can you just ignore the law. If you don't like the law, then work to get it changed, but how can you defend breaking it? If immigration law is worthless, then why does any law matter?

Kevin Davis

@Diane -- if a person whos in the US illegally commits a crime and is arrested by the DPD, the Durham County Sheriff (which operates the jail) can and does coordinate and cooperate with ICE to begin deportation proceedings.

The question I am asking is, if someone is driving without a license (which is an offense that typically draws a violation/ticket), should they be arrested and deported? What about someone jaywalking? Double-parked?

Essentially, if someone is committing a Durham-based crime that is subject to arrest and incarceration, they can be deported. Expanding that criteria to include everything for which someone can be cited essentially makes city police front-line troopers in the immigration battle. Do you want local law enforcement in that role, such that effectively every illegal immigrant in Durham has no incentive to cooperate with the police for fear of deportation?

If Durhamites do not like the policy, elections afford a chance to change it (since City Council sets policy on such things), but I for one would not hold my breath.

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