Mexican immigrants, many of them illegal, have found a new way to prove their identity in the new era of security in the United States. The Mexican Consulate Office has started issuing identification cards called a matricula consular to any Mexicans who apply for the ID.

Since Sept. 11, demand for the matricula has spiked, with immigrants standing in line for hours each day. The Chicago consulate said it has been issuing 300 cards daily.

"There are certain needs we have that can be met with a matricula," said Jesus Romero, an illegal alien who recently stood on line with dozens of other immigrants to get the card that essentially guarantees better access to U.S. public and private institutions.

The matricula can be used to file a police report in several states. In others, matricula ID holders can use the card as one of two pieces of identification needed to apply for a driver's license.

Critics warn these cards send a dangerous signal that America is the land of too much opportunity and too little security since the card allows illegal immigrants more legitimacy to stay in the United States, breaking U.S. law.

"Pulling out this Mexican consular ID should be the same as holding up a sign that says, 'INS, arrest me, I am an illegal alien,'" said David Ray, associate director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

"What we are doing is giving a reliable document to our people for identification for whatever reason they need it," said Carlos Sada, Mexico's Consul General.

Getting a matricula requires only a Mexican birth certificate and some proof of U.S. residency.

With a matricula and an employee tax ID number, Mexican immigrants can open accounts at dozens of banks nationwide even without a Social Security number. The accounts afford relatives access to U.S. dollars through automated teller machines in Mexico.

"One of the objectives is to bring the Hispanic population into mainstream banking and mainstream financial services," said Roberto Herencia of Banco Popular of North America.

The consular office's policy is not to ask applicants if they are here illegally, nor to share any of this information with the U.S. government. The Mexican government argues that Mexicans deserve the best quality of life in the United States and a matricula gets them on their way.

"It is not the job of the Mexican government to see who is legally or illegally in any other country," Sada said.

"Issuing these cards and giving illegal aliens some form of recognized identity cards makes life here a little bit easier, therefore, making it just a little bit more enticing for people to break laws in the future," Ray said.