PHOENIX — Arizona could be on the verge of reversing a decade-old law that was part of anti-immigrant efforts.
A measure headed to Gov. Doug Ducey would once again allow state and local government agencies to accept consular ID cards as a valid form of identification. The cards are issued by foreign governments to provide a method of their citizens to identify themselves while in a foreign country.
There is a caveat: Only those cards that include “biometric identity verification techniques,” including a fingerprint and retinal scan, will be considered valid. But the cards currently being issued by Mexico as well as Guatemala do comply.
The Arizona ban on recognizing these dates back to 2011, the period during which the Republican-controlled legislature was passing a host of measures aimed at illegal immigration. Most notably that included SB 1070 and its requirement that police officers who stop someone for any reason make a reasonable effort to check that person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally.
Proponents of the ban on the recognition of consular ID cards claimed that people not in this country legally were using them to obtain jobs and public benefits. There also were complaints that the cards were too easy to forge and that they gave the impression that the holders were here legally.
Supporters claimed that the law would result in those not here legally leaving the state.
There was no immediate response from Ducey on Thursday about whether he will sign it. If he does, that apparently leaves only North Carolina with such a ban.
So what changed?
Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, who sponsored one of the versions of the bill, said there are practical reasons. For example, he said law enforcement has a particular need to be able to identify people who may be part of an investigation, including victims of crime.
Sen, Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said the change recognizes the relationship between the two countries.
“Mexico is our No. 1 trading partner,” he said. And Boyer said the bipartisan vote — 20-10 in the Senate and 41-18 in the House, shows “how much we love Mexico and we want to foster relations as much as we can.”
Still there was Republican opposition, though none of the members who voted against the measure earlier this month in his Senate Education Committee explained their votes.
And what does Boyer think of those members of his own party who remain opposed?
“Nothing I can say publicly,” he responded Thursday.
Jorge Mendoza Yescas, Mexico’s consul in Phoenix, said this is important for citizens of his country who are in Arizona.
“It has the same validity as a passport,” he said. “So anything they can do with a passport they will be able to do with a consular ID.”
Mendoza acknowledged that, in some ways, the new law — assuming it is signed by Ducey — does not change everything. For example, he said many financial institutions already accept them to open accounts and to provide loans.
But the bigger effect, Mendoza suggested, may be just the fact that Arizona has decided to reverse a decade of policies.
“It sends a very important message to Mexico (that) Arizona is recognizing the contributions of the Mexican community in the state,” he said. And Mendoza said it also shows Mexico that Arizona considers its relationship with his country to be a “top priority.”
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, agreed with the assessment about the importance of sending a message.
“In some ways, it’s like a demonstration,” he said, saying that Arizona needs the people who live here who are Hispanic. “It’s putting your money where your mouth is.”
And there’s something else. Bowers said he’s seen a shift in the attitudes among members of his own party.
“They’re not blind,” he said.
“Much of our platform coincides with the values of Latino Americanos, better than the other side,” Bowers explained. “But we don’t outreach, we don’t ever show that we care, that we have empathy for a situation.”
This bill, he said, is “a step.”