VA probes Charleston hospital

John Barilich

The call to protest the Mexican Consulate issuing identification cards and passports in North Charleston drew a handful of people Saturday.

Opponents of the practice hope their efforts will urge the General Assembly to pass a law against it.

For several years, the Raleigh-based Consulate General of Mexico -- which has oversight in the Carolinas -- has been coming to the Charleston area and other cities in South Carolina offering documentation and legal services to Mexican citizens, including those considered to be undocumented.

Last year, 1,800 Mexicans living in the metropolitan Charleston area received some form of official documentation from their government at two events in North Charleston. Today, the consulate will wrap up the second of a two-day visit to the North Charleston Convention Center.

Tea Party and other citizen groups worry the practice undermines efforts for Mexicans to come to the United States through legal channels.

"If the people were here legally, they would have a green card and work visa and they wouldn't be needing these false IDs," said Linda Rouvet, co-founder of the Citizens for Immigration Law Enforcement and a member of the Charleston Tea Party.

Barbara Pulicicchio, a committee member of the Charleston Republican Party, was incensed about the mobile consulate issuing passports. "If you went to Mexico, wouldn't you need an American passport? How can (immigrants) come to Charleston and get a Mexican passport. It's illegal and we're going to get a law passed against it."

The women also were upset that the city of North Charleston had donated the use of the Convention Center for, as Rouvet said, "a foreign government to provide services for their foreign nationals."

She added, "What if Libya wants to do this? Would we allow it?"

Officials with the Mexican and North Charleston governments, as well as volunteer advocates, said the protesters failed to understand that the documentation is not only legal but provides safety for the entire community.

Carlos Flores Vizcarra, consul general of Mexico in Raleigh, said documents including the consulate identification cards, known as "matriculas," are official documents of the Mexican government issued under an agreement with the U.S. State Department and the covenants of the Geneva Convention.

The matriculas, he said, require proof of Mexican nationality, such as a birth certificate or an officially-issued passport, a valid photo identification, and, in this case, proof of residency in the Carolinas.

Consulate staff process the information online, in real time, to verify identifications through records in Mexico City. Staff members also photograph and fingerprint those seeking identifications and passports.

When asked about pending bills in the legislatures of South Carolina and North Carolina prohibiting the documentation process, Vizcarra said it won't help anyone.

"It would promote, among the Hispanic community, going for illegal or fake documents," Vizcarra said.

North Charleston City Councilwoman Rhonda Jerome said the main reason for the city to offer its facilities is to improve safety for all. When police stop a Mexican for an offense, officers know a matricula is a reliable identification card.

As an elected official, she feels obligated to help everyone in North Charleston.

"They may not be citizens of the United States, but they are citizens of North Charleston," Jerome said.

Jose "Pepe" Hernandez- Alvarez, a Mexican native who has lived legally in the United States for 29 years and became a citizen in 2009, has helped coordinate the consulate visits. A major benefit of the matriculas is the ability to open a bank account. Otherwise, undocumented Mexicans become "walking ATMs" -- carrying cash -- and become targets for robberies and assaults.

"Because of the circumstances, the police don't get the report of (minor) crimes. The only ones they know of is when (Mexicans) become a statistic."