State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, who favors a GOP-backed mandate that voters show their photo ID at the polls, recently pointed to another voter ID — in Mexico. "If you don’t have this card in Mexico, you don’t vote," he said on the Jan. 27 edition of Your News Now’s Capital Tonight, holding a voter card from Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute that he described as including a photo, fingerprint and "your life’s history."
In a separate interview for that night’s program, which airs weekly in Austin, Waco and other cities, state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, who opposes voter ID legislation, said: "You’ve got to tell the whole story. In Mexico, they don’t have birth certificates, for example. They don’t have a lot of the same things that we have. They don’t have registration cards for voters. They have one national ID. We don’t have a national ID."
Shifting away from the hubbub about the proposed voter ID law, we wondered whether Mexicans have one national ID, but lack birth certificates and voter cards.
In an interview, Gallego told us that "most of (Mexico’s) population" doesn’t have a birth certificate. "Mexico is not at a point where they have implemented the law all across the country," he said. "They don’t have the resources."
Gallego said that supporters of a voter ID in Texas are pointing to Mexico as an example of the law at work, but "Mexicans have a national ID card for everything," not just voting. "It’s just a different system," he said.
When we asked if anyone could confirm his statements, he arranged a conference call with Rosalba Ojeda, the consul general of Mexico in Austin.
Ojeda told us that birth certificates have "been around forever" in Mexico, but some residents in remote areas "simply don’t get around to registering the baby." Some people aren’t registered until they’re older, "when they have the opportunity to go to the village," she said.
Mexicans can register their birth at any time, Ojeda said, but it’s not necessarily easy. They must go to the local municipio, or municipal office, of their birthplace and bring witnesses who can attest to their birth in Mexico.
She said that she doesn’t know what proportion of the population has a birth certificate but that the government has conducted "a lot of campaigns" in the "last 15 years and so most of the people I would say now would have one." Birth certificates are required to access hospital services and get a passport, Ojeda said.
Ojeda also told us that the Mexican government is conducting a pilot project that gives citizens national IDs. According to a Jan. 25 San Diego Union-Tribune news article, Tijuana elementary school students became the first to register for the new identity card. "The card is aimed at minors from ages 4 to 17, but by the end of 2012, Mexico’s federal government is hoping that as many as 25.7 million children will sign up," eventually extending ID cards to adults as well, according to the article. "With the document, they won’t need to present a birth certificate when registering for school, medical appointments or to receive other public services."
The article also says that in Mexico, "birth certificates and voter registration cards are the most commonly used identification documents."
Ojeda told us that a birth certificate is also required to get an electoral ID, which citizens need to vote.
According to the electoral institute’s website, to vote, Mexicans must apply to the "Electoral Roll" by personally submitting an official form that includes their signature, fingerprint and photograph to a field office of the Federal Electoral Registry. There’s an office in every electoral district. There are some exceptions, such as for citizens who physically can’t go to the offices.
Since 1991, the institute has issued free "photo-voting cards" — "an essential document to exercise the right to vote," according to the site. They include the owner’s address, electoral district, full name, age and ID number.
Kenneth Greene, an associate professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin, told us that Mexico does have birth certificates. He said that he hasn’t seen a national ID, but that the country does have a voter ID card.
Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center, told us in an e-mail that Gallego’s statement is incorrect on both counts. Selee said Mexico has birth certificates and registration cards for voters, but the country doesn’t have a national ID card. "Their voter registration card usually serves that purpose," he said. "There is discussion of creating a national ID, but it doesn’t exist yet."
While some people in rural areas don’t get birth certificates, Selee said, "that doesn’t seem to be a major problem anymore in Mexico in the way it is in some countries like Haiti and Bolivia."
Separately, Greene pointed us to an undated report by the Mexico-based Be Foundation, which works to increase birth registration in the country. The report says Mexico "has no simple system for registering births. For poor people in rural areas, getting a birth certificate can mean walking hours or even days to the nearest municipal office."
Karen Mercado, the foundation’s president, told us in an e-mail that "in Mexico, more than 10 million people lack a birth certificate," which she said means "no access to (citizens’) most fundamental human rights to education and health programs, protection and participation."
In a follow-up interview, Gallego told us: "My issue is not that they do not have birth certificates — it’s that they’re not credible... it’s not that the system doesn’t exist. In practical terms, a lot of people don’t have them, and they’re not necessarily reliable."
He told us that he was referring to the voter ID when he said Mexico has one national ID.
To the Truth-O-Meter.
As experts pointed out, the statement misfires on three fronts.
Mexicans don’t have a "national ID card for everything," though a pilot project is under way to issue identity cards to minors. But the federal government issues voter IDs featuring each voter’s photo and other personal information. The government also issues birth certificates; according to experts we spoke with, less than 10 percent of residents don’t have one.
We rate Gallego’s statement as False.