Matricula Madness at Proof Bar

Can a Mexican consular ID be used to prove you're of legal drinking age? The answer is not as simple as ABC

Santoros, a Los Angeles-based psychedelic-folk band, were set to hit the stage for a free, Sunday-night show at Downtown Santa Ana's Proof Bar. For the band, it was going to be their first time playing in Santa Ana; the musicians were looking forward to making new fans and playing for friends.

But only silence would take the stage on May 15, with the group, plus openers Them Howling Bones and Moondog Orchestra, deciding to cancel their performances. When asked for ID upon their arrival, two members of Santoros had neither a California driver's license nor a Mexican passport on them. So they presented to Proof's security guard what are known as Matrícula Consular cards: ID cards issued by Mexican consulates in the U.S. that Mexican nationals can obtain by presenting copies of either a birth certificate or passport coupled with an additional form of identification, plus utility bills to prove place of residency.

The cards weren't good enough for the doorman or Proof owner Joey Mendes, who decided the two band members would have to stay outside the bar until Santoros' set time. "We felt really insulted," says Uriel Jimenez. "We drove all that way and were going to play for free."

Mike Hirshon

Jimenez says the bar owner claimed he could get in trouble with the city. In several interviews with the Weekly, however, Mendes has maintained that he never mentioned the city in the exchange. (According to the Santa Ana city attorney's office, the city has no policy for citing drinking establishments for admitting patrons on the basis of a Matrícula.)

Mendes says his concerns were actually with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). "I can't accept the Matrícula Consular, as per the ABC," he says. He also says one of the cards "was clearly fake."

For their part, the band insist that no other venue they've played in Southern California has had similar concerns. Another musician with a band who have played at Proof Bar before, who asked not to be named, says one of its members possesses only a Mexican Consular ID and has encountered nothing akin to what happened to Santoros that night.

The cards, more than 380,000 of which were issued in California in 2007 (the most recent year for which numbers are available from a Mexican-government website), have attracted some controversy in recent years from anti-immigration forces, even though they do not include any information about immigration status. They do, however, cite a date of birth. So, should bar owners such as Mendes be comfortable admitting patrons with only a Matrícula as proof of legal drinking age? While it might appear to be a simple question, finding the answer is a bit more complicated.

On the issue of what is accepted as proof of legal drinking age in California, ABC spokesman John Carr cited Section 25660 of the California Business and Professions Code (from the ABC Act of 2011, the last time the law was revised), which holds that a passport issued by a foreign government complies with state law. As for an ID card issued by a foreign government's U.S. consulates, Carr's at first replied, "It certainly can."

But after double-checking with the ABC's legal department, the spokesman changed his response. "Mexican Consular IDs do not comply," he clarified. "It is my understanding that these IDs do not have [a] physical description and they are not passports."

Yet a recent case involving using a Matrícula as proof of age seems to open up further questions. On April 28, an administrative-law judge ruled in favor of the ABC in an appeal against the agency brought by a Rancho Cordova liquor store (Nav Food Store, LLC v. Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control). In 2008, then-19-year-old Arnulfo Ramirez-Zarazua purchased a 12-pack of Budweiser from Harry's Liquor & Food. An ABC investigator followed Ramirez-Zarazua outside and determined and confirmed his minor status via his Matrícula Consular card.

When the Weekly presented the Nav Food Store decision and the procedural precedent to the ABC, the department's legal unit responded, "It is not inconsistent for the department to rely on a Matrícula card to identify a person without it constituting 'bona-fide identification' for purposes of the statutory defense," adding, "Essentially, a document used to verify a person's age and identity does not need to meet the same standards as those required to establish a statutory defense to an action."

What, exactly, does that mean in practice? According to Chris Albrecht, deputy division chief of the ABC, "If an investigator comes upon that situation [a person with a valid Matrícula inside a drinking establishment], they would not have probable cause to arrest that person, nor would they have any grounds for formal action against the establishment owner." As for the presence of a such a patron at an establishment in the first place? "It is absolutely correct that it is not illegal for a person of age possessing only a valid Matrícula card to be present in a 21-and-over bar," Albrecht says. "There is nothing in the law that prohibits that."

Given these distinctions, perhaps consular IDs will be declared in legislation to be "bona-fide identification," as military IDs and passports were on Jan. 1, 2010.

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