SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal building in the city has become the first of its type in the country to accept Mexican Consulate identification cards as proper identification for visitors, but critics of the trial program claimed it will mainly help illegal immigrants.
The Phillip Burton Federal Building began accepting the cards Thursday as part of a four-month trial program, which supporters say will allow people without U.S. identification to conduct important business at the building, such as applying for Internal Revenue Service taxpayer identification numbers.
"This helps everybody," said Cindy Jimenez, spokeswoman for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who backed the program. "The reason (Pelosi) did this was it would help her constituents access services there, including our office."
Critics of the program, however, said it mainly serves illegal immigrants who are ineligible for U.S. identification.
"I think it's extremely troubling that, in effect, this shows fundamental ambivalence of our federal government to enforce immigration laws," said Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit group that advocates tighter immigration laws.
The card, issued by Mexico's 43 consulates in the United States, shows the date of birth, a current photograph and the address of the card holder. Last year, the consulates issued 60,000 of the cards -- known in Spanish as "matriculas consulares."
"Not only undocumented people use this card," Bernardo Mendez, Mexican consul of press and trade in San Francisco, told the Contra Costa Times. "For many people, the matricula is a great document and acts as a kind of passport to go back and forth from Mexico."
All visitors to the building, which houses federal courts, must show legal identification to enter. Supporters of the program said it would not compromise security at the building, because the Mexican Consulate has upgraded the cards with tamperproof features.