They are used mainly by undocumented immigrants who lack the most common U.S. documents used to establish identification – but ID cards issued by foreign governments may no longer be accepted by North Carolina public agency employees if some state legislators get their way.
A state House judiciary committee agreed Wednesday to remove those cards from a list of documents that can be used to establish residency to get a driver's license, obtain auto insurance or enroll in Medicaid. The change also would apply to similar cards issued by foreign governments.
The bill comes as new U.S. Census numbers show the state's Hispanic population doubled between 2000 and 2010 to more than 800,000.
Illegal immigration opponents say the cards are unreliable to provide identification, pointing to federal law enforcement warnings. They also argue that undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to open bank accounts or get access to certain services, even with ID cards issued by foreign governments.
Supporters of the cards say they lead to improved relations between governments and Hispanics.
The bill passed on a 7-4 vote. The committee defeated an amendment that would have restored the ID use to get auto insurance.
Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, one of the bill's chief sponsors and a frequent immigration policy critic, said federal law enforcement agents have found the "matricula consular" to be unreliable.
Cleveland also pointed to last month's announcement by federal prosecutors that 22 people had been charged in connection with a Mexico-based ring that produced high-quality identification cards for illegal immigrants in 11 states, including North Carolina.
"This is something that we as a state have allowed to grow, and has its tentacles throughout all over the state," Cleveland told the committee. "People have gotten the idea that [it] is really an ID card when it's not."
But committee members and an advocate for the Hispanic community argued cards are credible and used by people who are legally in the United States to perform basic functions such as getting to and from work. Without them, farm workers or students may be more willing to drive without a license or insurance, they said.
Cleveland said people legally in the state can still get a driver's license as long as they can prove residency through one of seven options listed in the law. He said he's trying to resolve the issue of illegal immigrants using fake IDs.
"It has cost North Carolina citizens jobs, it has cost the state money," Cleveland said. "The only people who need (a consular) card are illegal aliens. It's as simple as that."
Efforts to get comment from the Mexican Embassy in Washington D.C. or the consulate in North Carolina were unsuccessful.
The Mexican consulate in Raleigh requires someone seeking a "matricula consular" to provide three original documents to prove the person's identity and residency in North Carolina. They could include a birth certificate and passport, one of several photo identifications and a document showing the person lives in the state.
The Mexican government issues the cards through its consulate offices to Mexican citizens living in other countries regardless of their emigration status. Many U.S. cities and police departments accept the card as identification. Many banks also accept the cards from customers wishing to open bank accounts or wanting to conduct financial transactions.
In 2004, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Mexican officials set up a partnership to help Mexican immigrants in the United States better access services and programs.
The U.S.D.A. sent a letter to food stamp program directors saying that they should accept the "matricula," as the Mexican government-issued ID card is called, as an official identification document, though the agency warned that it does not mean its owner has legal immigration status.
Authorities in U.S. states along the U.S.-Mexican border often used such ID's when trying to determine the identity of people who die making an illegal crossing.
In December, the tax assessor-collector in Dallas County said his office would resume accepting identification cards issued to Mexican citizens for motor vehicle transactions such as registrations and title transfers.
The official has decided to stop accepting the Matricula Consular de Alta Seguridad identification cards because of their use in some fraudulent transactions. But he reversed himself after learning that some Mexican nationals living in Dallas County have no other form of identification, which is needed to register vehicles, his office said.
This story contains material from The Associated Press.