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The MATRICULA CONSULAR: BIG Problem - Accept It Or Not?

During 2002 several major banks, including Bank of America, US Bank and Wells Fargo, decided to accept an identification card issued by the Mexican government called the "Matricula Consular" as part of acceptable identification to open accounts.

Matriculas are named from the Spanish word "matricular," which means to register. The cards originally were made for identification of Mexican nationals when they are outside of Mexico, for use when re-entering Mexico, and to track Mexicans living abroad. They are issued by the Mexican government. Most of the ones we see are issued in Mexican consulate offices located here in the United States. They look much like our drivers licenses, with a photo on the front. The newest ones being issued also have a strip on the back similar to that on a credit card.

In order to obtain a Matricula Consular a Mexican native must have an original birth certificate, a photo identification from Mexico such as a voter's card or a Mexican driver's license and something to prove they now live in the United States, such as a water or gas bill with a local address. The Matricula cards cost about $25 to $30 and are good for five years The American banking system relies on Social Security numbers, which are used to track accounts, verify the identity of customers and report taxable earnings to the government. Accepting the Matricula skirts that issue. If the individual holding a Matricula Consular wants to open an interest bearing account, the IRS will issue an individual taxpayer identification number, so that earnings on interest-bearing accounts can be reported.

The Mexican Government has been pressuring the United States to recognize the Matricula as proof of identity, and 13 states (most of them in the south and southwest) now allow them to be recognized as identification documents. However, the Northeast states have been notably reluctant to accept them, with New York officially rejecting the cards. Because in many cases the cards are issued to Mexicans who are illegally in this country, the objection stems from concerns that the identity cards might complicate the new security measures being put in place to combat terrorism.

Many Mexicans who work in the United States do so in order to send money back to their homes in Mexico. FDIC says about $18 billion is wired annually from the US to Mexico. Many US banks have welcomed the IDs as a way to get a cut of this activity by profiting from the handling charges on the wires and increased deposits. Many local police honor the cards in case these immigrants are victims or witnesses of crime.

Should you accept the Matricula?
When Alabama bankers went to the Federal Reserve with the question on acceptance of Matricula Consulars, the response was that although Fed "does not specifically state that banks should allow their use, it does not object to banks utilizing them as a form of identification."

With the recommendations and regulations due on Section 326 of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, this question is an important one. The financial institution's Customer Identification Program will have to state specifically whether or not it will accept a Matricula Consular as a primary form of identification. It will also have to decide whether to accept them with or without an individual identification taxpayer number issued by the IRS. Demand deposit accounts and savings accounts, and even personal loans can be accommodated this way. Mortgage lending is not a possibility, as Social Security numbers are required for home loans, because many mortgages are subsequently sold to government agencies. Social security numbers also provide background and credit history necessary for mortgage decisions.

The problem will grow as the numbers of illegal immigrants increase. For instance, according to some reported figures, there are over 75,000 Hispanics in Alabama, 500,000 live in the Houston area of Texas, and almost 100,000 in the Kansas City area. The Census Bureau in 2000 reported about nine million illegal aliens in the U.S., with perhaps four million from Mexico.

Pro and Con
Don Powell, chairman of the FDIC encouraged accepting Matriculas in a speech in New York, pointing out that sixty percent of Latino immigrants are believed to be unbanked. It was a virtually untapped market until some of the major banks declared themselves. Powell related the story of five California banks that took in $50 million in deposits after they began accepted Matriculas. The banking industry is instructed in the PATRIOT Act that it must have a social security number or government issued ID in order to open an account. However, financial institutions are to make risk based assessments for alternate identification, which opens the door to accepting the Matricula Consular. If such permission is written into the Customer Identification Program and the CIP is subsequently approved by the regulators and examiners, there should be no problem in using them.

Politics Involved
President Bush has stressed the importance of the Hispanic vote. Therefore, experts expect there will be pressure on the banking system to accept the Matricula Consular. Law enforcement, on the other hand, is adamantly opposed to recognizing the card, feeling it may legitimize terrorist and illegal activity. The regulation may contain wording such as that from Fed in Alabama: "?we do not state that you should allow their use, but don't object to you using them?"

That could mean the decision will be up to each and every financial institution to make on their own.

Copyright © 2003 Bankers' Hotline. Originally appeared in Bankers' Hotline, Vol. 12, No. 10, 1/03

First published on 01/01/2003

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