Intended Consequences

Our supervisors tilt at a lot of silly windmills. But the city's recognition of Mexican consular IDs may help change national immigration policy for the better.

An agreement on U.S.-Mexico immigration policy is expected this year, for obvious reasons. In the age of terrorism, providing official U.S. documentation to 4 million Mexican migrants currently without papers can be seen as a matter of national security. Rather than any attempt at the logistical and public relations horror of mass deportation, Bush and Fox clearly support some kind of amnesty -- a notion that will enrage the nativist right wing of Bush's Republican Party. The notion also could turn immigration into the sort of strange-bedfellows political issue that, like welfare reform, NAFTA, and balancing the budget, defined the Clinton years. To get the immigration amnesty he and his Mexican confidant want, Bush may soon need to link himself politically with ... the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

In a quiet yet dramatic nationwide trend, a wallet-size leaf of plastic called a matrícula consular is opening up a world of privilege for undocumented Mexicans; the privilege will be difficult to take away. Four months ago, Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval sponsored legislation that made San Francisco the first U.S. city to require hospitals, schools, police, and other public agencies to accept, as official documentation, ID cards issued by Mexican consulates.

Since then police in several states, including Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, began accepting the cards as no-immigration-questions-asked ID. Wells Fargo Bank followed step, recognizing the cards at branches nationwide. Bank of America and others have done the same (no doubt delighting the ghost of S.F. immigrant and BofA founder A.P. Giannini). To illegal immigrants -- who are often booked on petty charges as John Does for lack of ID and then turned over to the INS for deportation, and who are frequently mugged because they carry cash for lack of bank accounts -- the IDs now being issued by 47 consulates represent a lifestyle revolution.

In San Francisco, every weekday morning since January, hundreds of people have lined up on Ellis Street outside the Flood Building, waiting their turn to apply for ID cards at the Mexican Consulate on the fifth floor. Well-dressed husbands and wives crowd into the elevators, pretty babies in tow, so giddy and talkative and downright optimistic that they seem to drive their office-working elevator companions to irritation.

"It means a lot to the immigrant community. Emotionally and psychologically, it's a boost to their morale, and they feel freer to accomplish planning for personal growth development, their jobs, and their studies," says Ramón Cardona, executive director of Carecen, an S.F. nonprofit serving immigrants.

And the legislation that enabled this optimism -- this real expansion of freedom -- was an outgrowth of a pro-immigrant culture nurtured by the "sanctuary" laws adopted by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, way back in the 1980s.

In a recent phone conversation, Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, once an assistant public defender, recalled that representing migrant clients was easier, knowing the San Francisco criminal justice system refused to cooperate with the INS. "I think it [the refusal] is a positive thing," Gonzalez said.

While I had him on the line, I thought I'd ask Gonzalez about the bear-hunting legislation he sponsored last week, which recommends 1,500, rather than 1,700, annual state bear permits. Gonzalez said that he's considering local animal-rights legislation, and that limits on bear hunting were "an easy thing to weigh in on" in the meantime.

"But shouldn't we stick to the bear necessities?" the columnist in me was tempted to snicker. But I refrained. When San Francisco someday leads a national wave of municipal fur bans, I'd like to have been on the side of angels. That's Walter Mitty's side.

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