By JULIE JOHNSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Santa Rosa High School auditorium Sunday had the feel of part victorious political rally, part community party and part tent revival as Sonoma County’s two largest law enforcement agencies announced they would begin accepting Mexican consular cards as a valid identification.
The cards will reduce the number of people booked into jail for lacking identification or for traffic offenses. And that will lead to fewer deportations from the jail.
The North Bay Organizing Project — a coalition of immigration, labor, conservation and bicycle activists — championed the cause and sponsored Sunday’s rally.
On the auditorium stage, project members asked Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and Santa Rosa Police Department officials to state if their agencies would start accepting the Mexican ID cards.
Sonoma County Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Dueñas answered in the affirmative.
“Claro,” he said in Spanish, a response that prompted nearly 800 people into cheers, stomping and ear-piercing whistles.
“Today is a great day,” Dueñas said in English. “We’re now going to accept the matriculár consular ID.”
Santa Rosa Police Capt. Hank Schreeder’s similar response brought another roar of support. Both officials said their departments were being trained to recognize the cards — and to spot counterfeits.
“We believe it’s a shared responsibility and the Police Department is willing to share in that change,” Schreeder said.”
The cards are a rallying point for immigrant advocates who see them as a way to reduce the number of non-criminals being deported.
In the 12-month period ending in March, of the 921 immigrants turned over by the jail to immigration agents under federal Secure Communities program, 433 were not convicted of the offense that landed them in jail and another 225 were convicted of minor offenses. These “non-criminals” — a formal ICE designation — neither had charges filed following their arrest nor were ever convicted of a local offense. Some land in jail after routine traffic stops or other encounters with police. If an officer can’t determine a person’s identification, they go to jail to be booked. Once fingerprinted, regardless of the local outcome, residents flagged for immigration issues are placed on federal holds and remain incarcerated. Acceptance of the consular IDs is expected to benefit unlicensed drivers who are pulled over and don’t have other legal problems.
Sebastopol police have recognized Mexican consular IDs since August, Chief Jeff Weaver said.
Sonoma County Law Enforcement Chiefs Association members discussed the new policy at length and approved draft language of the policy. Each department head will decide whether to adopt it, and some are still considering it.
On Sunday, a Mexican Consulate representative praised Dueñas and Schreeder’s agencies for working with the groups that would reduce the number of people arrested for not having identification, a non-criminal offense.
“I think it will be the best benefit for all Mexican communities in Sonoma County,” said Adriana Gonzalez Felix, consul for legal affairs with the consulate.
Felix said consulate staff would return to Sonoma County in November to teach people how to apply for the card. They may bring a “mobile consulate” to the area, Felix said.
The auditorium was decorated with Mexican blankets, pumpkins and gourds. A man led the group in a Pomo Indian prayer. The room filled with the energy and humidity of a revival.
People waved placards to identify seating sections for groups such as the Centro Laboral de Graton, MoveOn, Latino Democratic Club and others that are members of the organizing project.
The North Bay Organizing Project leadership committee voted in February that one of its two primary goals for the year was to get acceptance for the consular cards.
The other priority was to get political support for a proposed bicycle-pedestrian bridge across Highway 101 near Santa Rosa Junior College.
On Sunday, several Santa Rosa city councilmembers, Sonoma County supervisors, transportation authority officials and Assemblyman Michael Allen pledged to get the bridge built.