Lawmakers take aim at immigration

By Chris Fiscus and Elvia Díaz
The Arizona Republic

Jan. 20, 2003

Arizona - A wave of fear and a tiny gleam of optimism are sweeping among many undocumented immigrants as a group of Arizona lawmakers presses for tougher laws affecting their lives.

Legislators are proposing everything from requiring police officers to turn them over to immigration officials to blocking colleges and universities from accepting them. Another proposal would reject identification cards issued by Mexican consulates as valid identification.

Other lawmakers are launching a long-shot bid to let Arizona issue driver's licenses to immigrants. Still others want to cooperate with Mexico on a federal program allowing guest workers.

"There is anti-immigrant mentality prevailing at the state Legislature," said Salvador Reza, executive director of Tonatierra, a non-profit advocacy group for immigrants.

Not so, say those proposing legislation directly or indirectly affecting immigrants. It's about protecting the state's scarce economic resources and the nation's security.

"Something has to be done," said Rep. Randy Graf, R-Green Valley, an architect of a bill that would bar state agencies and local governments from accepting the so-called consular ID cards.

The cards, issued by Mexican consulates, are being accepted widely over objections from those who fear they'll lead to amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Supporters counter that the cards have no bearing on a person's legal status.

If Graf's legislation is successful, it would mean that Mexican immigrants couldn't use the cards as a primary form of identification for business with cities such as Phoenix and Tucson, which accept them as valid.

The Phoenix Police Department, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and a handful of banks also accept the Mexican government document as personal identification.

"It (the legislation) would be horrible," said Alejandro Covarrubias, a 19-year-old Mexican immigrant, who uses his consular ID to do everything from cashing a check to corroborating his identity to local authorities.

Graf isn't convinced.

"There is no way of knowing where they came from," Graf said.

"The consular ID cards are not verifiable identification."

Sen. Pete Rios, D-Hayden, said the number of legislative proposals dealing with immigration grew this year compared to previous sessions, and more are on the way.

He will introduce a bill to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license, saying that would prompt them to get insurance and register their cars.

The bottom line, Rios said, is that the lack of a license won't stop immigrants from getting behind the wheel.

For example, Irma Janet Ramos, a 23-year-old immigrant from Sonora, is still driving after being slapped a month ago with nearly $900 in traffic fines.

Ramos, who went to the Mexican Consulate last week to get her ID, said she was fined for driving without a license or insurance.

"I still need to drive," said the Phoenix baby-sitter. "I'm afraid to drive, but I have no choice."

Ruben Beltran, Mexico's consul general in Phoenix, said his government is very respectful of the decisions of local authorities.

But he believes it is important to let immigrants obtain a driver's license and use the consular IDs.

"It would clearly benefit everybody," he said. "It's about human rights. It's about being pragmatic."

It was unclear Sunday whether the state Department of Public Safety is in favor of, or opposes, the driver's license bill.

But Officer Frank Valenzuela, a DPS spokesman, said that the department's main concern is not who is allowed to get a license but that those allowed to have one have gone through the proper training.

"If they've gone through Motor Vehicles (Division) and received a license, then we're satisfied with that," he said.

While much of the attention is on driver's licenses and ID cards, others are an attempt to block immigrants from entering college.

Raúl Martín Castillo hopes to bring his wife and two children from Guanajuato, but worries that his 14-year-old daughter, Gloria, won't be able to attend college.

"I feel trapped," said Castillo, 42. "I want them with me here. But if they can't go to school here . . . "

Reach the reporters at or (602) 444-8948 and


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site