In San Francisco; Orange County, Calif.; and Austin, Texas, Mexicans who are in the United States illegally can obtain a badge of legitimacy. They can receive an ID card from the local Mexican consulate that will be honored by the police, by other city offices, and even by many banks.
The governing bodies in these communities decided, in essence, that it's better to know who the illegal immigrants are than to turn them over to federal immigration officials. Or, as some local officials might observe, it's better to let illegal immigrants live and work a little more normally in the US than to take the time and trouble to round them up.
These newly "documented" immigrants can now also be fined for minor offenses such as traffic violations. With their Mexican IDs honored in the US, they'll simply be cited and released like legal residents or US citizens. That, say officials in places like Anaheim, Calif. (within Orange County), will free up police for more important crime-fighting.
Thus illegal immigration is becoming a less-petty crime than, say, jay-walking or littering.
The IDs also allow illegals who've been paying exorbitant fees to wire money to open accounts with Bank of America, Citibank, or Wells Fargo.
This kind of creeping amnesty gives an aura of legality to people who have transgressed US law by entering the country without proper papers. These IDs also breach US sovereignty, effectively giving a neighboring country shared authority over individuals living in the US.
These concerns will only deepen if Mexican officials, as they're reportedly planning to do, push the consular ID card idea in other parts of the US with big illegal populations.
There's also irony in allowing anyone to settle more easily in the US illegally at a time of heightened concerns about border security. The southern border has not been as big a concern as the northern line with regard to terrorist infiltration. But its relative porousness has to give US security planners pause.
The problem of illegal immigration - overwhelmingly a problem with Mexicans - must be dealt with. Meaningful solutions will involve tough negotiations between Washington and Mexico City. That project was shelved after Sept. 11, but it hasn't lost any of its importance for both countries.
Mexico needs the economic outlet of having a controlled number of its people heading north for employment, preferably under a legal plan. The US needs to ensure that its borders and laws are respected, now more than ever. Ad hoc local solutions should be viewed with caution.