How the Minutemen Drove Mobile Mexican Consulates Out of the Capistrano Unified School District

Mexican-Free School Zone
How the Minutemen created a controversy and drove mobile Mexican consulates out of the Capistrano Unified School District

On a brisk, sunny Saturday in early December, a volunteer with the local Mexican consulate office in Santa Ana set up a "mobile" consulate at an adult school in San Juan Capistrano. This was nothing new—the consulate had been invited to the school for years as part of its annual education fairs; on occasion, the consulate would also provide services for residents who couldn't make the trek to its Central County headquarters.

On that same Saturday, the Southern California chapter of Jim Gilchrist's Minuteman Project planned to protest the consulate's presence at the school.

Minutewomen display their demands in front of Capistrano unified school district headquarters Feb. 11
Daffodil J. Altan
Minutewomen display their demands in front of Capistrano unified school district headquarters Feb. 11
Patricia Mariscal
Courtesy the Minutemen
Patricia Mariscal

"It's been awhile now that we've been giving attention to the mobile consulates. That and the day-laborer centers," says Minutewoman Lupe Moreno of the locations the anti-illegal-immigration group (which directs much of its wrath at Mexican immigrants) target for protests. The week before, the group had staged a protest against a mobile consulate at a Teamsters office in Orange.

The founder of Latin Americans for Immigration Reform, Moreno has voiced her opinions on Lou Dobbs' show and makes it a point to seek out mobile-consulate stations. "Citizens of the U.S. shouldn't be helping hold clinics that help illegal aliens in any way," the Moreno says. "I listen to Spanish radio and look through the newspaper. . . . We know what to look for."

At the English Language Development Center, the Minutemen showed up and "were greeted by someone who indicated she was a representative of the Mexican government," according to Minutewoman Debbie Craig.

That "representative" was volunteer Patricia Mariscal, who runs a nonprofit organization that has partnered with the consulate during the past five years to coordinate the mobile visits, according to the former Mexican consul in Santa Ana.

Craig says she was holding up her sign and protesting when she was told by Mariscal that she had to stop taking pictures and leave. "When I refused to stop taking pictures, she repeatedly pushed my camera into my face," she says.

In the days that followed, the Minutemen cast the dustup as an all-out assault; after the incident, supporters of the Minutemen were urged to call school-district offices to protest the "illegal presence of a foreign government on school grounds."

The group held a protest at a San Juan Capistrano City Council meeting in January calling for the expulsion of the consulate from the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) and the city.

The group's street protests of mobile consulates usually don't end there. Churches or businesses that host the mobile unit are usually subsequently bombarded with aggressive e-mails and phone calls calling for a termination of their relationship with the consulate. The Capistrano incident and its fallout neatly illustrate the group's strategy since the founding of its first incarnation in 2005: Create a controversy, complain loudly and urge the offending entity to act in their favor.

In San Juan Capistrano, the strategy seems to have worked. Within a few weeks of the protest, and following a fervent anti-consulate phone and e-mail campaign by the Minutemen, as well as the discovery by the district that the consulate had not filed the proper paperwork to be there that day, the consulate and the district came to a "mutual agreement," according to CUSD Superintendent Woodrow Carter, that effectively forbade them from providing services for Mexican immigrants at the school in the future.

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The Mobile Consulates area target of the Minuteman Project's ire, largely because of what Mexican citizens can obtain there: the matricula consular de alta seguridad (high-security consular registration), the picture ID given to Mexican nationals when they register with their local consulate. British, French, Argentine, Polish and dozens of other consulates offer and even encourage local registration by foreigners traveling or living abroad. The Mexican, Argentine, Guatemalan, Ecuadorian and Brazilian consulates issue ID cards following registration; Bolivia, Peru, Poland and other consulates are considering doing the same.

Mexico, with its 47 consulates in the U.S., gives out the most consular ID cards. Mexicans are required to present proof of Mexican nationality, identity and a local address before they can receive a matricula consular. According to the consulate's definition, the matricula is a picture ID for Mexicans who live abroad, an official document that is also accepted in Mexico. The IDs, which feature verification holograms and say nothing about—and have no bearing on—a person's immigration status in the host country, have been given out since 1870.

But these legal ID cards have become a point of contention because U.S. institutions and local governments increasingly accept them as valid forms of ID, regardless of the bearer's immigration status.

Although the matricula is not officially designated as a valid form of U.S. identification, the federal government has left it up to states and local governments to decide how and when to accept it as such. More than 160 banks and more than 1,100 police departments currently accept the matriculas. Police departments find them useful in getting people to come forward and report crimes, as well as for identifying people who have no other form of ID, according to a 2004 congressional report put out by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

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